(Citation: Barusch, Amanda S. (2011) ‘Causality Conundrums and Advice to Authors’, Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 54: 2, 135 — 137.)
Truth has become elusive in this post-modern era, which calls into question each of our many ways of knowing. In the traditional research paradigm we approach truth through the process of elimination. As null hypotheses are rejected time after time we begin to consider the possibility that an affirmative causal explanation might be in order. Unfortunately, many researchers leap without question or pause from rejecting a single null hypothesis to embracing the explanation of the moment. Qualitative researchers are not immune, given their tendency to imply that truths (sometimes called “themes”) magically “emerge” from data. In the dawn of a new decade, let’s resolve to adopt a more circumspect approach to causality. Let’s circle our explanations a few times before we decide to lie down with them.
This might be going against our natures. Human beings are meaning-making machines. We can find patterns and explanations even before we learn to talk about them (Gilovich, 1993). Consequently, we have become very good at predicting the weather (Ring, 2000). My favorite weather woman can tell me when a blizzard is going to reach my home. She’s right, nearly all the time. But, prediction is not explanation. She can describe the flow of air masses around the globe; but she can’t say whether this blizzard was caused by global warming or a butterfly’s wing. She can tell me that I’m going to have to shovel snow tomorrow morning, but she can’t tell me why.
This may be the essence of the causality conundrum. Our powers of observation and pattern recognition are exceptionally well-developed, and we insist on applying them, not to prediction, but to the vastly more elusive task of explanation. Read more . . .