COMM3710 - Fall 2011 - Section 001 - Reading Notes - Hocking


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Information processing – selectively choosing or discarding and evaluating information to reach conclusions

Communication research – the patient, systematic study to learn new things about communication

Much of the information learned by students in the past is now obsolete. However information constantly bombards us.

Today’s college student is a consumer of knowledge from diverse sources. In order to be a good consumer of knowledge, one must know how that knowledge was generated and must learn to be critical of research methodology.

Communication scholars conduct research on many different subtopics using many different methods. Some of the similarities are these:
All methods of inquiry about communication…
  1. have as their ultimate goal the generation of knowledge that may be used to improve the human condition.
  2. involve studying how humans encode, transmit, and receive symbols to influence one another.
  3. Follow certain prescribed rules
  4. Involve the collection and analysis of data.
  5. Begin with a question, an interrogative, asking about something that is unknown

Inquiry of any kind, regardless of the perspective from which it is conducted, has, at its core, the process of asking questions. The most fundamental distinction between the kinds of questions that can be asked about communication, specifically, the distinction between questions of fact and questions of value. There are also questions of policy but they are a blend of fact and value. Questions of definition are important to begin with.

Critically important to asking and answering questions about communication is the definition of the terms used in the questions.

Everything written in this book has been written in a language. Language is a system of symbols and accompanying rules about how the symbols should be ordered that is shared by those who understand the language. We learn these meanings from our influential circle (i.e. parents, teachers, etc.). No two people, however, have exactly the same past experiences, therefore no two people will have exactly the same meaning for the same symbol. As a general rule, the more abstract the word, the more important are clear definitions to reduce potential misunderstandings.

There are many different ways to categorize kinds of definitions.

Reportive definition – reports how a particular term has been customarily used.
Stipulative definition – involves specifying how a term will be used.
Operational definition – defines variables with such specificity and concreteness that they make scientific research possible.

Whereas questions of definition deal with making judgments about the way we describe the world, questions of fact are concerned with describing the world as it is according to what we know at the time. Questions of fact are often called empirical questions capable of being verified or refuted by observation. An example of this type of question is; Did hip-hop music sell more CDs in the 1990s than rock music? The answer to the question can be found through observation. If these questions of fact were stated in the declarative form instead of their current interrogative form, these statements could, after appropriate research, be found to be true or false. Questions of fact are amenable to empirical answers. These answers may seem contradictory. The questions can be about the past, present, or future. Communication researchers who address questions of fact about the present and the future events generally do so using the methods of science. Scientific research requires carefully controlled and defined observations that can be repeated again and again. Deciding if an important question-or a good question-is being asked can be one of the most difficult and subjective parts of the research process.

Questions of value pose inquiries about whether an object, situation, or behavior is perceived as good or bad, right or wrong. They concern the world as it ought to be, not necessarily as it is. An example of this type of question is; Is Bruce Springsteen the greatest rock ‘n’ roll performer ever? Even though the question can be researched and answered not everyone might agree with the answer. The answer instead lies a great deal within the person answering. The author takes the position that there are no absolute right or wrong answers. Does this mean that the answers to questions of value are equally valid?

Ethical relativism – the belief that all ethical judgments are equally valid because they depend on the situation in which the judgment is being made and the personal ethical beliefs of the individual making the judgment.

Ethical absolutism – the belief that ethical judgments are absolutely right or wrong, true or false, regardless of the situation or the beliefs of the individual.

The authors prefer a middle ground between extreme forms of ethical relativism and absolutism. Questions of value deal with ethical, moral, aesthetic, and artistic concerns. While we can frequently distinguish between a question of fact and a question of value, we cannot separate them completely. The extremes, which are “answer lies purely within the questioner and answer lies purely within the external world, are never the realm in which the answer to wither type of question lies.

Questions of policy are concerned with deciding wise and prudent courses of action in the management of affairs. An example of this type of question is; should the United States send troops to join United Nations peacekeeping missions to prevent genocide? Or Should the FTC ban the use of celebrity endorsements in alcohol advertising? These questions are frequently very complicated, requiring much varied information to answer. They require not only an agreement on definition, but also both factual information and value information. In argumentation and debate you research the answers to questions of fact and value as they relate to questions of policy.

Argument – the use of reason and evidence to persuade someone that a policy is correct.

The evidence for correctness of a policy is usually information about answers to questions of fact and value based on accepted definitions. Questions of policy don’t always have to be about government or large organizations. For example should we buy what we want (i.e. HDTV) on credit or should we operate strictly on a cash basis?

Epistemology – the study of how we come to know things. This deals with how individuals or groups come to believe what they believe.

Tenacity refers to the idea that some things we believe simply because we have always believed them. These kinds of beliefs come from traditions we inherit form our culture and/or subcultures. This doesn’t mean that to believe something our culture has ingrained in us id necessarily bad or even that the belief is necessarily incorrect. We all, as human beings, believe some of what we believe because of tenacity. A paradigm is a dominant way of conceptualizing a phenomenon, of approaching it methodologically, and of looking for solutions to research problems.

A second way of knowing is authority or a source of some kind that has established knowledge and shares it. Much of what we know, both as individuals and as communication students, we know because some authority has told us. The key to using an authority as a source of information is an accurate appraisal of the extent that he, she, or it really is an authority.

The third way of knowing is intuition or the priori method. Basically, this is the idea that the truth tends to be self-evident, and that if reasonable people engage in open-minded discussion, the correct answers to problems will tend to surface.

The fourth method of knowing, science, is best for questions of fact that do lend themselves to empirical study. A scientist starts with a problem of obstacle and purposes a solution or theory.

Theory – predicts that if the proposed solution is correct, certain events ought to occur under certain circumstances.
A scientist creates those circumstances in a manner that allows for careful observation to determine if the prediction was correct, and uses the results of the observation to confirm, modify, refine, or reject t the theory. Science has one advantage over other ways of knowing – and it is a big one. If an error has been made with the scientific method there are built-in checks explicitly designed to maximize the likelihood that the errors will be detected and corrected. The ideal model of science includes the following features. First science is authority-free. The second that scientific knowledge is always public knowledge. Third that other researchers are free to attempt to reproduce the results using the same or slightly modified procedures. However like all research methods, science has its limitations and disadvantages.

All research begins with asking of a question.