Publication details

Kvantifikace jevů v sociálních vědách: Pozapomenuté dědictví Fergusonovy komise

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Title in English Quantifying phenomena in the social sciences: the forgotten legacy of the Ferguson committee


Year of publication 2023
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Social Studies

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Description In the war year 1940, the British Society for the Advancement of Science published the final report of the so-called Ferguson committee (Ferguson et al., 1940). This had been meeting since 1932 and had been concerned with the question of whether it was possible to quantify sensory responses - in other words, whether it was possible to measure psychological phenomena at all. Although the committee agreed only that it was not in agreement on any of the issues, its results were a quite fundamental blow to measurement in psychology and thus to psychology as an empirical science. It was, however, one of the key impetuses for Stevens's (1946) representational theory of measurement, which is still a cornerstone of the Classical Test Theory and thus of the vast majority of "quantification" in psychology and the social sciences. Although the Ferguson committee influenced psychology for decades, its findings were gradually swept under the rug. Its findings are still highly relevant, however, and this is not changed by the fact that we have stopped thinking about the nature of measurement in everyday practice. Who would be stumped by it either, when all we have to do is add up the items in a questionnaire or test and we know immediately how the client is doing. However, if the whole problem can be ignored to some extent for the purposes of practical assessment, its solution is absolutely essential for the study of psychological constructs and for the development of psychology as a discipline. The fact that the scores of psychological measurement instruments are numerical in nature and that we treat them as numbers still does not mean that they are in fact numbers. Respectively: our scores are and are not numbers at the same time. Psychologists must therefore ask the right questions: is there a latent variable that we are measuring - and do we need or want it to exist? What is its nature? What purpose does measurement serve us? To what extent are our results numbers? Where did the numbers come from? In my talk, I will describe why the Ferguson Commission's conclusions are still relevant. I will justify why we still want to ask the aforesaid questions, and explain why there are no answers. Finally, I will suggest a direction that psychology can take to resolve this paradox.
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