Overly ambitious critics and the Medici Effect: a reply to Kampen and Tamás

Abstract

The critical audit of Q methodology by Kampen and Tamás contains many errors of fact and understanding—indeed, a resistance to understanding that is compared to the Medicis’ stance toward Galileo. Following a brief historical summary of similar ill-advised critiques of Q methodology in the 80 years since its introduction, responses are presented to various of the points raised: on the nature of subjectivity, the universe of subjective communicability (concourse) and samples drawn from it, the role of factor analysis and factor interpretation, the forced Q-sort distribution, the ratio between the number of participants and the number of statements in the Q sample, and sources of researcher bias.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We would be remiss were we not to mention two other Q journals (Journal of Human Subjectivity and Q-Methodology and Theory, the latter in Korean) as well as several other books on Q technique and its methodology—-by Block (2008), Iliescu (2005), Khoshgooyanfard (2008), Kim (2008), Kim (2007), McKeown and Thomas (2013), Prasith-rathsint and Sookasame (2007), Said and Stricklin (2013), Thorsen and Allgood (2010) and Watts and Stenner (2012)—-of which Kampen and Tamás are apparently unaware, as they apparently also are of the 60 chapters and dozen encyclopedia entries on Q methodology (e.g., Brown and Good 2010, Smith 2001, pp. 319–343 ), not to mention the more than 50 books that utilize Q (e.g., Kanra 2009).

  2. 2.

    A search in SCOPUS using the search string TITLE-ABS-KEY(Q-method OR Q-sort OR Q-methodology OR Q-methodological OR “Q method” OR “Q sort” OR “Q methodology” OR “Q methodological”) identified 1,922 articles. The number of published articles increased from an average of 10 per year in the years up to 1990, to 35 in the years 1991–2000, and 92 in the years 2001–2013. These articles were published in source titles from the life sciences, health sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences and humanities, with psychology (21.8 %), medicine (19.4 %), and social sciences (15.3 %) as the principal subject areas.

  3. 3.

    In September 2013, the 29th annual Q conference was held in Kampen and Tamás’s country of residence, the Netherlands (see http://qmethod.org/), offering them an easy opportunity to share and discuss their concerns with the international Q community (among attendants, scholars from 12 universities and research organizations in the Netherlands).

  4. 4.

    Unknown to one another, Danielson and Brown were reviewers of two separate earlier versions and rendered critical commentary that Kampen and Tamás have apparently elected not to take into account.

  5. 5.

    By our count, Kampen and Tamás’s search procedure missed at least 30 Q publications appearing in 2010 (10 of them in an edited book on Q methodology) and that were announced on the Q-Method electronic discussion list, which has a subscribership of more than 800 scholars (but not Kampen or Tamás).

  6. 6.

    We have never before encountered this argument and have no idea where Kampen and Tamás got it, but it is important to note that the data of Q methodology are not responses to individual statements alone, but more importantly in their relationships, as when they are rank-ordered (as in Q sorting). In this connection, Brown (1980, pp. 265–267) has shown that for \(N\) \(=\) 33 statements (which is below average in size), there were more than 44 trillion different Q sorts possible, or more than 6,000 times as many different Q sorts as there are humans on Earth. Not all of these different ways are uncorrelated, of course, but the numbers do seem to leave enough maneuvering room for the usual study, which typically employs fewer than 50 participants.

  7. 7.

    Pett et al. (2003, pp. 47–48) state that there is no empirical evidence on the ratio of number of subjects to number of items that is required for undertaking factor analysis and that little agreement exists among authorities in factor analysis about rules of thumb to be used.

  8. 8.

    Kampen and Tamás elect not to examine Q methodology’s parallels to quantum theory (Sect. 1), which is a pity since their implicit commitment to a Newtonian conception of science (as was the case with Wittenborn before them) goes some distance in explaining their inability to achieve a substantial grasp of Q methodology. A glimpse into Q’s quantum connection can be gotten by examining the series on “William James, Niels Bohr, and Complementarity,” beginning with Stephenson ’s (1986) first of five articles in Psychological Record.

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Correspondence to Steven R. Brown.

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Brown, S.R., Danielson, S. & van Exel, J. Overly ambitious critics and the Medici Effect: a reply to Kampen and Tamás. Qual Quant 49, 523–537 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-014-0007-x

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Keywords

  • Q methodology
  • R methodology
  • Subjectivity
  • Factor analysis