The place of words and numbers in psychiatric research. - Inserm - Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale Access content directly
Journal Articles Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine Year : 2013

The place of words and numbers in psychiatric research.


: In recent decades, there has been widespread debate in the human and social sciences regarding the compatibility and the relative merits of quantitative and qualitative approaches in research. In psychiatry, depending on disciplines and traditions, objects of study can be represented either in words or using two types of mathematization. In the latter case, the use of mathematics in psychiatry is most often only local, as opposed to global as in the case of classical mechanics. Relationships between these objects of study can in turn be explored in three different ways: 1/ by a hermeneutic process, 2/ using statistics, the most frequent method in psychiatric research today, 3/ using equations, i.e. using mathematical relationships that are formal and deterministic. The 3 ways of representing entities (with language, locally with mathematics or globally with mathematics) and the 3 ways of expressing the relationships between entities (using hermeneutics, statistics or equations) can be combined in a cross-tabulation, and nearly all nine combinations can be described using examples. A typology of this nature may be useful in assessing which epistemological perspectives are currently dominant in a constantly evolving field such as psychiatry, and which other perspectives still need to be developed. It also contributes to undermining the overly simplistic and counterproductive beliefs that accompany the assumption of a Manichean "quantitative/qualitative" dichotomy. Systematic examination of this set of typologies could be useful in indicating new directions for future research beyond the quantitative/qualitative divide.
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inserm-00907149 , version 1 (21-11-2013)



Bruno Falissard, Anne Révah, Suzanne Yang, Anne Fagot-Largeault. The place of words and numbers in psychiatric research.. Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, 2013, 8 (1), pp.18. ⟨10.1186/1747-5341-8-18⟩. ⟨inserm-00907149⟩
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