Combining quantative and qualitative data collection on the Internet

I’ve quickly seen some recent mentions of a new project out of Princeton called All Our Ideas. Here is how the creators describe the project:

All Our Ideas is a research project to develop a new form of social data collection that combines the best features of quantitative and qualitative methods. Using the power of the web, we are creating a data collection tool that has the scale, speed, and quantification of a survey while still allowing for new information to “bubble up” from respondents as happens in interviews, participant observation, and focus groups.

Of course, one of the problems with surveys is that they force respondents to fit their responses to the questions that are asked. If you ask bad questions, you get bad results or if you don’t provide the options respondents want, you don’t really get the kind of data you want. Qualitative data, on the other hand, tends to be limited to a smaller sample because it takes more time to interview people or conduct focus groups.

I will be very curious to see what emerges out of this website.

“The Triumphant Decline of the WASP”

A NY Times opinion piece from Harvard law professor Noah Feldman makes this argument: “The decline of the Protestant elite is actually its greatest triumph.” Feldman explores the changes in the Supreme Court (the appointment of Kagan would make it 6 Catholics, 3 Jews) and Princeton (“As late as 1958, the year of the “dirty bicker” in which Jews were conspicuously excluded from its eating clubs, Princeton could fairly have been seen as a redoubt of all-male Protestant privilege).

So what changed? Feldman provides some reasons: “the anti-aristocratic ideals of the Constitution,” education was an important defining trait for WASPs so opening up universities was a big step, and the American value of fair play. The result:

Together, these social beliefs in equality undercut the impulse toward exclusive privilege that every successful group indulges on occasion. A handful of exceptions for admission to societies, clubs and colleges — trivial in and of themselves — helped break down barriers more broadly. This was not just a case of an elite looking outside itself for rejuvenation: the inclusiveness of the last 50 years has been the product of sincerely held ideals put into action.

These may be accurate reasons. But they seem to ignore the historical context: something happened in the 1960s that changed institutions like Ivy League schools and led to a very different looking Supreme Court. In that decade, the Civil Rights Movement plus an explosion in higher education for the burgeoning US population plus higher rates of immigration from non-European locales plus cultural change (rock ‘n’ roll, television, more open questioning of authority, etc.), changed, or at least began to change, the socioeconomic status of WASPs.