Complexity Explorer Santa Few Institute

Foundations & Applications of Humanities Analytics (Spring 2023)

Lead instructor:

This course is no longer in session.

10.1 Measurement & Operationalization » Test Your Knowledge: Explanations

Q1. Why was Robert Hooke's use of the freezing point of distilled water as a "zero point" a good choice when constructing a temperature scale?

A. It led to advances in distillation technology.
B. It ensured that the zero point was sufficiently cold.

C. It was grounded in the generic physical properties of water.
D. It eliminated any potential noise in the measurement process.

Correct answer: (C)  The first option (A) has no basis in the lecture; even if Hooke's temperature scale did lead to advances in distillation technology, this is not a good-making feature of his scale per se. As for the second option (B), while there is something nice about having a temperature scale with a zero point that is close to what humans typically experience as cold (i.e., water-freezing temepratures), such an "intuitive" zero point is neither necessary nor sufficient for a good temperature scale. The fourth option (D) is not accurate: no real-world measurement process is completely free of potential noise. This leaves the third option (C), which is correct. While not perfect, by devising a measurement scale that uses the freezing point of distilled water as a fixed point, Hooke ensured that his temperature scale, at least in principle, would not be less susceptible to distortion due to the local properties of water in a given place or time. That is, it will give the same results in many different contexts. We can compare this to hyper-local measurement systems devised in the same time period (e.g. those that used that used the cellars of the Paris observatory as a fixed point).

Q2. How is operationalism defined in the lecture?

A. As the thesis that we do not know the meaning of a concept unless we have a method of measurement for it.
B. As the view that all psychological concepts can be understood in terms of the behavior of agents.
C. As the view that all measurement must be defined in terms of mathematical operations.
D. As the view that only quantitative research yields genuine knowledge.

Correct answer: (A)   The second option (B) describes a view typically called "behaviorism", which attempts to define all psychological concepts in terms of observable behavior. While behaviorism is arguably a species of operationalism, operationalism is far more general, and applies to many non-psychological measurements. The third and fourth options (C) and (D) are not correct; while many measurements do take a mathematical or quantitative form, the view that all concepts are understood via measurement is more general than this, and allows for an understanding of concepts through measurements that are not strictly quantitative. This leaves the first option (A), which is the correct answer. In the lecture, operationalism is defined as the thesis that knowing the meaning of a concept requires a method of measuring it. Certainly there is much to question about this definition. First, is it a good definition of operationalism? Second, regardless of whether this definition captures operationalism well, is anything like operationalism true? As discussed in the lecture, Chang's case study of temperature gives us some reasons to think operationalism might not be strictly true, although this too is controversial. 

Q3. In the "Marriage and Divorce of Capitalism and Democracy" project presented in Chapter 5, how does Simon measure the relatedness of the concepts of capitalism and democracy in a given year?

A. By ranking newspaper articles on a 1 to 5 scale with respect to how much they are about capitalism and democracy, and calculating to what extent these rankings are correlated across news articles.
B. Through a close reading of a selection of newspaper articles discussing both capitalism and democracy.

C. By calculating the proportion of newspaper articles in which the words "capitalism" and "democracy" both appear, and comparing that proportion to the proportion of articles in which either word appears.
D. By comparing the the average length of articles in which the words "capitalism" and "democracy" both appear to those in which only one of the two words appear.

Correct answer: (C)  As a matter of fact, the third answer (C) is correct; the Chapter 5 lectures make this approach explicit. But note that all four of these options could plausibly constitute good ways of measuring the relatedness of capitalism and democracy, though the fourth answer may not provide the most apt measurement.