C3S Report No: 0019/2017
A workshop on research methodology was jointly held by the Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) and the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras, on the 16th of November at the University of Madras Chepauk Campus.
The Welcome Address was given by Sundeep Kumar, Research Officer at C3S. He spoke on the difference in methodology between research in the Social Science and the Life Sciences. The fact that all of the 3 speakers are from such diverse backgrounds also led him to say that this would provide a varied experience to the students who were present.
Dr Ramu Manivannan, Professor and Head, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras, started with a question: whether we, as social science students, needed to study research methodology, or practice it? This according to him, needed to be done, because we had to understand the philosophy of science and research itself. In Ancient society, science had a diverse set of indicators. This eventually changed during the middle ages, and from here we find the classical divisions that we see between the sciences. It is our job, as philosophers, to reason out what happens in nature and in life. It is a continuous happening, rather than a static variable.
Politically, we tend to be completely unscientific, according to him. He also used the example of econometrics and pointed out the difference that we must see between economic thoughts and the scientific study of economics.
Colonel Hariharan spoke at length on the nature of intelligence gathering in the military and how there was a work ethic that needed to be emphasized in the conducting of research. He also said that there was an important carryover opportunity that would present themselves to researchers who understood research methodology. The example he gave was how he could work in the corporate field, drawing on his background in the military.
Dr Karthikeyan Sivaraman, a scientist in bioinformatics and genomics, said that we had to start from the basics of research methodology. What he meant by this was that you had to sample your data well, instead of having to clean it up at a later time. Your research question also has to be defensible at every level. He also emphasized that there was certainly an ethical aspect to being a researcher and that one would have to declare their funding and their interests in a particular field. Even though you can’t put a number on everything, when one is attempting to sell a certain narrative, you need descriptive data to back this up. This also serves to mitigate bias as best as is humanly possible.
Sampling, according to him was an art, and one needed to pick the right kind of samples to be able to construct a model that was as fool-proof as possible. In this sense, you also have to decide on the statistical analysis that you will employ, prior to the collection of data, and not after. In doing this, you would run the risk of picking methods of analysis that would provide you with an analysis that is biased in one sense or the other.