CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, SACRAMENTO

PPA 205:
Research in Public Policy and Administration

Fall, 1998

 

Professor Ted Lascher
3035 Business Building
(916)278-4864 (office)
(530)758-5687 (home--no calls after 8:00 p.m.)
tedl@csus.edu
liznted@juno.com

   

Meeting time and place:
Tuesday, 6 - 8:50
Business 1027

Office hours: Tuesday, 5 - 6 & by appointment

I hear, and I forget;
I see, and I remember;
I
do and I understand.
Chinese Proverb

 

OVERVIEW

This course focuses on the design of social science research. The main course goal is to enhance students' understanding of how best to fashion studies to draw valid inferences. Additionally, PPA 205 aims to promote knowledge of the characteristics and potential pitfalls of various data gathering approaches. As well, PPA 205 is intended to facilitate appropriate choice of quantitative analysis techniques, effective presentation of study results, and ethical conduct of research projects.

PPA 205 also has a pragmatic goal related to completion of graduate studies: helping students to move forward with their masters theses. The main course "product" is a prospectus. It is anticipated that this prospectus could provide a framework for thesis research.

While PPA 205 concentrates especially on applications in public policy and politics, it draws from other social science disciplines as well. For example, we will consider the implications of the controversy about the consequences of "low self-esteem" in psychology.

This is not primarily a course on statistical analysis of quantitative information. Another course, PPA 207, serves that purpose. The discussion of statistical techniques in PPA 205 is aimed mainly at enhancing understanding of methods not discussed in depth in the other course, especially those appropriate for analyzing categorical data (e.g. religion). We will focus especially on cross-tabulation, and its relationship to regression analysis. We will also consider the practical reasons for choosing one technique or another.

 

CONDUCT OF THE COURSE

This course differs from traditional research methods courses in that a relatively heavy emphasis is placed on classroom discussion. I believe it is not enough for students to listen carefully to a lecture; instead, the concepts must be used to analyze real world studies and information. Accordingly, a typical class will begin with assessment of an applied reading or some other means of putting course ideas to work. In the latter part of the class I will draw lessons and further elaborate upon important points from the readings.

Especially because of the emphasis on discussion, it is essential that students come to class having done the week's reading. Students should also be prepared to accept special discussion related assignments, such as leading the analysis of a particular study.

 

READINGS

Required course readings include a course packet containing articles and book chapters, as well as the following books.

Richard L. Cole, Introduction to Political Science and Policy Research (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996).

Jean M. Converse and Stanley Presser, Survey Questions: Handcrafting the Standardized Questionnaire, SageUniversity Paper series on Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences, 07-063 (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1986).

James A. Davis, The Logic of Causal Order, Sage University Paper series on Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences, 07-055 (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1985).

Gary King, Robert O. Keohane and Sidney Verba, Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994).

All readings are available from the Hornet Bookstore.

 

THE PROSPECTUS

The most important course requirement is completion of a research prospectus. The prospectus will contain an overview of a research problem, justification of the topic choice, specification of data gathering technique to be used, identification of likely data sources, specification of data analysis techniques that may be used, and consideration of what the findings might imply. Further guidelines will be provided early in the semester. The prospectus will be due on the last day of the finals period, December 18 (it should be noted that other assignments are front-loaded to give students adequate time for the prospectus).

 

MID-TERM EXAMINATION

There will be one in-class, mid-term examination. It will take place during the first half of the class session on November 17.

 

PAPERS AND HOMEWORK

There also will be two short (1,000 word) papers on specific course topics. Detailed guidelines for these assignments will be provided.

Additionally, there will be three one page homework assignments. Unlike the case for other assignments, only three homework grades will be used. Homework assignments that answer the questions adequately will receive an "A" grade; those with minor errors will receive a "B" grade, while those with significant flaws will receive a "C" grade.

 

LATE ASSIGNMENTS AND MISSED CLASSES

Late assignments will not be accepted. At my discretion, a student who misses a deadline may be given a make-up assignment. Whether or not a penalty will be assessed depends on the reason (e.g. a family emergency constitutes a good reason; a competing requirement for another course does not).

A student with more than one unexcused absence from class will be penalized one full class participation grade. A student who misses more than three classes for any reason should drop the course.

 

GRADING WEIGHTS

Grading will be determined as follows:

Prospectus     30%
Mid-Term     20%
Paper #1     15%
Paper #2     15%
Class participation     15%
Homework     5%

 

DETAILED CLASS INFORMATION

Note: In general, applied readings are listed first.

ORGANIZATIONAL MEETING

September 1

Note: I will be in Boston attending a professional conference this week. Dr. Tim Hodson will meet briefly with the class, distribute the syllabus, and answer any questions relating to such matters as adding the course.

I. INTRODUCTION

September 8

Readings

David King, "Notes on the Uniform Distribution" (typescript, 1994)

Cole, Introduction to Political Science and Policy Research, ch. 1

King, Keohane and Verba, Designing Social Inquiry, pp. 1-13

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the key characteristics of social scienceresearch?
  2. Why did I assign the article by David King?
  3. What is the difference between normative and empirical research?

II. DESIGNING SOCIAL INQUIRY

A. THEORIES, HYPOTHESES AND VARIABLES

September 15

Homework Assignment #1 Due

Readings

Baumeister, Roy, Laura Smart and Joseph Boden, "Relation of Threatened Egotism to Violence and Aggression: The Dark Side of High Self-Esteem," Psychological Review, 103 (1996), pp. 5-8, 12, 15-20, 26-29

Cole, Introduction to Political Science and Policy Research, ch. 3 King, Keohane and Verba, Designing Social Inquiry, pp. 14-33, 99-114

Discussion Questions

  1. What does it mean to have a falsifiable theory?
  2. Is the theory about the connection between self-esteem and violence falsifiable?
  3. What is the difference between an experimental and non-experimental research design?

B. THINKING ABOUT CAUSALITY

September 22

Readings

Kevin B. Smith and Jeremy Eccles, ABuying a Better SAT Score: A Renewed Search for the Elusive Link between Education Expenditures and Outcomes,@ State and Local Government Review, 30 (1998), pp. 42-51

Davis, The Logic of Causal Order (entire)

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the conventional causal model with respect to how teacher salary influences student performance? How does the model advanced by Smith and Eccles differ?
  2. How can researchers determine the correct causal order for the variables they are examining?

C. MEASUREMENT, RELIABILITY, AND VALIDITY

September 29

Paper #1 Due

Readings

Bruce E. Keith, et al., The Myth of the Independent Voter (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), pp. 1-5, 9-22

Cole, Introduction to Political Science and Policy Research, ch. 6

Discussion Questions

  1. Why does it make how party Aleaners@ are coded?
  2. How can you tell if you have a good measure of some underlying concept?
  3. What is the difference between validity and reliability?

D. SELECTING AND NARROWING A TOPIC

October 6

Readings

Cole, Introduction to Political Science and Policy Research, ch. 2 Donald Chisolm, "On Writing a Dissertation," PS, 19 (1986), pp. 65-69

Discussion Questions

  1. Where can you get ideas for a social science project?
  2. Why is it so hard to narrow a topic?

III. DATA COLLECTION METHODS

A. FINDING AND USING ARCHIVAL DATA

October 13

Homework Assignment #2 Due

Web Sites to Visit

Come to class having perused the web sites for the Social Science Data Base Archive (SSDBA) at CSU Los Angeles, and the Inter-University Consortium on Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan:

http://artemis.calstatela.edu
http://www.icpsr.umich.edu

Readings

Ted Lascher, AThe Moderately Skilled Layperson's Guide to Using the CSU System's Social Science Databases,@ typescript, 1998

Cole, Introduction to Political Science and Policy Research, ch. 5

Discussion Questions

  1. What kind of social science data sets are widely available to people within the academic community?
  2. How would you go about finding and obtaining a relevant social science data set?

B. CONDUCTING SURVEYS: THE BASICS

October 20

Readings

Converse and Presser, Survey Questions, pp. 9-31

Richard Seltzer, Mistakes that Social Scientists Make (1996), pp. 90-100

Discussion Questions

  1. What common problems face people who construct surveys? What can "go wrong?"
  2. How can surveys be made conceptually clear?

C. ASSESSING SURVEY DESIGN

October 27

Paper #2 Due

Reading

Converse and Presser, Survey Questions, pp. 31-end

Discussion

Come to class prepared to discuss your paper

D. CASE STUDIES

November 3

Readings

Lyn Kathlene, "Power and Influence in State Legislative Policymaking: The Interaction of Gender and Position in Committee Hearing Debates," American Political Science Review, 88 (1994), pp. 560-576

Edward L. Lascher, Jr., "Loss Imposition and Institutional Characteristics: Learning from Automobile Insurance Reform in North America," Canadian Journal of Political Science, 30 (1998), pp. 143-164

King, Keohane and Verba, Designing Social Inquiry, chs. 4, 6

Discussion Questions

  1. How convincing are the inferences Lyn Kathlene draws?
  2. In attempting to determine the influence of governmental systems, why is it appropriate to focus on American states and Canadian provinces?
  3. What is selection bias? How should the researcher address potential selection bias?
  4. How does one "maximize leverage" (a la King, Keohane and Verba)?

IV. DATA ANALYSIS

A. DATA ANALYSIS: THE BASICS

November 10

Homework Assignment #3 due

Reading

Cole, Introduction to Political Science and Policy Research, chs. 9-10 (skim ch. 8)

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the difference between statistical significance and the strength of a relationship?
  2. What is the difference between a spurious effect and an intervening effect?
  3. What techniques can be used to control for the effects of different independent variables on a dependent variable?

B. DATA ANALYSIS: WHICH METHOD TO USE?

November 17

Mid-Term Examination

Readings

There are no new readings for today's class. After the examination we will discuss practical reasons for choosing one data analysis technique or another.

V. PRESENTING RESULTS/ETHICS OF SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH

November 24

Readings

Robert Putnam, "The Strange Disappearance of Civic America," The American Prospect (Winter 1996), pp. 34-48

Cole, Introduction to Political Science and Policy Research, ch. 11

William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (1987), pp. 3-19

Earl Babbie, Survey Research Methods (1973), pp. 347-357, 362-364

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the differences between well presented research findings and poorly presented findings?
  2. How may researchers' policy views influence their studies?
  3. What are researchers' ethical obligations to the subjects of their research? To their discipline and colleagues? To the larger public?

VII. PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER: PROSPECTUS PRESENTATIONS AND COURSE WRAP-UP

December 1

Prospectus presentations and discussion

December 8

1) Prospectus presentations and discussion

2) Concluding observations

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