January 23, 2019

Evaluating Descriptive Claims

Plan for Today:

(1) Introduction to Descriptive Claims

(2) Review types of descriptive claims

(3) First step in evaluation: concepts

Module Roadmap

Module Roadmap

(1) Descriptive claims: varieties and link to causal claims

(2) Concepts and Why we need them

(3) From concepts to observable traits (Variables)

(4) Making measurements

Descriptive Claims

Descriptive Claims: Varieties

(1) "Russia is a democracy."

(2) "58% of countries worldwide are democracies."

(3) "Countries in Western Europe are more democratic than those in Eastern Europe."

(4) "Democracies have been backsliding (becoming less democratic) since the election of Donald Trump"

  • What is the first thing we need to know to begin evaluating these claims?

Descriptive Claims: Varieties

(1) "Russia is a democracy."

(2) "58% of countries worldwide are democracies."

(3) "Countries in Western Europe are more democratic than those in Eastern Europe."

(4) "Democracies have been backsliding (becoming less democratic) since the election of Donald Trump"

We need to know what it is to be a "democracy" or to be "democratic".

Descriptive Claims and Causal Claims

"The election of Donald Trump led countries around the world to become less democratic."

  • To evaluate this causal claim, we need to answer some descriptive claims (more on this later) and some definitions.

Evaluating Descriptive Claims:

First step:

We need to be able to classify phenomena/things/events into types.

Evaluating Descriptive Claims:

A useful definition:

In social science we discuss "cases", not in the legal sense, but in this sense:

case:

a specific individual, organization, entity, event, or action, existing in a specific time and place.

We are often interested in identifying what general categories this specific case belongs to, what is its "type".

Concepts

Concepts

At a general level:

concepts: abstract or general categories that we (humans) apply to particular cases/instances. They abstract away from the highly specific, complex, and often unique features of reality.

  • this definition is incomplete, more to come

Our thought and our language is rooted in concepts!

Concepts

Abstraction comes at a price

For example:

  • "Chairs"
  • Proper names of people
  • Proper names of countries: e.g. "Syria"

Conceptual Limits

Conceptual Limits