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TOK Essay

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Stella Gregg TOK Essay Word Count- 1,510 May 2010 Session Title #3: Discuss the strengths and limitations of quantitative and qualitative data in supporting knowledge claims in the human sciences and at least one other area of knowledge. Humans seek ultimate truth in order to holistically understand the world in which we live. In reality, we cannot be certain whether or not we have found truth, though we can use data as evidence to support our claims about how the world works as true. Quantitative and qualitative data both can be used to verify our knowledge claims as true in different, yet equally valuable ways. Qualitative data is better suited to determine the most effective ways in categorizing essential or distinctive attributes for comparing and contrasting, though it cannot provide support as to how and why these things are categorized. Quantitative data, then, gives way to the analysis of change between strictly measurable elements of a study. Qualitative and quantitative data can provide the most substantial evidence for a knowledge claim if they are used together. The limitations of qualitative data can be reinforced by quantitative data, and vice-versa. Through studies in the human sciences and natural sciences, the usefulness and setbacks of qualitative and quantitative data can be seen. A knowledge claim, in my opinion, is only valid if it can be used in the progress of humanity. ...read more.


On the qualitative side, cognitive psychology is the study of internal mental processes used in order to understand behavior.1 Cognitive psychologist Aaron T. Beck developed a theory that depression and anxiety disorders are caused by cognitive distortions (errors of thinking) such as; selective abstraction (one only focuses and judges themselves on their failures, not their successes), overgeneralization (apply one failure to all situations), magnification (one exceedingly focuses on or emphasizes one failure), and absolutist thinking (perfectionist, never satisfied with oneself).2 This theory has been supported with qualitative data, though cannot be supported with quantitative data. You cannot measure "failure" on a universal scale, and neither can you measure the problems of "depression" or "anxiety" on a universal scale, so the type of data fits with the type of problem. The strengths of qualitative data, then, lie in its ability to look beyond measurable, concrete data, into abstract data such as thought processes and emotion, but it is so ambiguous that it could be left to anyone's personal interpretation. Personal interpretation is the last thing you want to support a claim as true, because some could agree and some could disagree, though no concrete "truth" is really reached. An immense amount of persuasive evidence is needed to validate a knowledge claim adequately, because humans can always find questionable weak points in an argument. Biological psychologists, on the other hand, would say that anxiety and depression disorders are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and that they can be treated with medication. ...read more.


The substances are categorized by properties such as pH level, water solubility, or the number of different types of molecules. This makes chemistry a very detached subject from human relevance. Sure, we can go on to make different compound and create new substances, but until that substance is tied to a significant human interpretation of its use, I do not feel that the substance is very valuable or relevant to me or to humanity in its progression. Qualitative data, such as the usefulness of a substance, or the emotional impact of the substance, would help to emphasize the usefulness of the substance to humanity. Though quantitative data can be useful in the field of empirical studies and technological advances, it does not easily relate to humanity, and thus alone, it is not strong enough to support a knowledge claim. In contrast, qualitative data is very useful in supporting abstract ideas and concepts, though alone it is too ambiguous to effectively support a knowledge claim. My experience in the American education system has been that teachers will reinforce the idea that quantitative and qualitative data should not be used together to support an argument. We are taught that these two forms of data are not compatible with one-another, and thus we shy away from utilizing their joint potential. The modern western world needs to understand that, together, qualitative and quantitative data can create the most difficult to disprove evidence that supports valuable information that aids in the progression of humankind. ...read more.

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