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Subject  :  Unobtrusive Measures
Author  :  R. John Howe mailto:%20rjhowe@erols.com
Date  :  02-24-2001 on 06:06 a.m.
Dear folks -

Once, when I was studying social science (a likely oxymoron) research methods in grad school, I encountered a book entitled "Unobtrusive Measures."

I just looked and there are four copies currently available on ABE. Here's the full citation:

Eugene J. Webb, Donald T. Campbell, Richard D. Schwartz & Lee Sechrest Unobtrusive Measures: Nonreactive Research in the Social Sciences
New York: Rand McNally, 1971 Trade Paperback.

Social researchers are often interested in ways of collecting data that do not intrude on human subjects. This is useful of a variety of reasons, including the fact that your "atoms" in this case can understand your theories about them and falsify your predictions if they are so inclined. But there is also a mildly ethical concern not to intrude unnecessarily on other human beings as one does research.

I mention this book because one of the measures in it was taken explicitly from a museum setting and has always seemed to me particularly ingenious in meeting the unobtrusive standard. Greg is unlikely to be charmed by it since it could be seen as falling into his "rat psychology" category.

Some museum decided that they wanted to measure unobtrusively which of their exhibits or portions of them attracted the most viewers. They discovered a floor tile that wore at a rather rapid and measurable rate and installed it in places where people would have to walk or stand as they viewed a particular part of the museums exhibtions. They were able to measure which exhibits were the most popular (attracted the most walkers) by gauging the wear periodically on these tiles.

As I said, a number of us will be less than charmed by this kind of measuring, but this book takes on an issue that many social researchers might find both interesting and useful.


R. John Howe

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