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«Fake sociology»: note for the user (part 2)

A demand for sociological information in the society is higher than ever, which is explained by the "reflection effect", which means the desire of a person to assess their image in the mirror of the public opinion.

It is little known that the author of perhaps the first large-scale sociological research in 1920-30-s in Belarus (BSSR) was a prominent native of Grodno region and a graduate of the Zhyrovichi theological school - Eugene Khlebtsevich. Better known as the bibliographer, E. Khlebtsevich can for sure be called a pioneer of the religion sociology. His analysis of the characteristics and dynamics of religiosity of the population was the basis for the first study in the sociology of the religion typology, as well as methods of work with target audiences. (His work "Mass Reader and Anti-Religious Propaganda: Study of Reader’s Interests and Methods of Anti-Religious Propaganda and Guiding the Reading", 1928, is of particular interest).

However, the trend to substitute the sociological knowledge with all sorts of monitoring, ratings and indices helps not the accumulation, but rather the "blurring" of how a person perceives the society. The reason is that the multidimensional object is often studied by one-dimensional cognition models. First of all, this concerns the opinion polls, new online services and the access of the sociologists to a dizzying volume of "big data", which have been claiming practically a revolution in sociology not so long ago.

At the same time, despite the emergence of new, more technologically advanced and sophisticated measurement instruments, the empirical sociology is not always able to respond to the issues of concern to society. With all the demand and the seeming objectivity, the survey is a measurement of the current state of the society - a kind of a thermometer, measuring the temperature here and now. Even the sociological data obtained in compliance with all the necessary procedures do not always provide the possibility to understand the cause-effect relationships, nature, future development trajectories of this or that phenomenon.

In addition to some formal grounds, based on which the reliability of sociological data (presence of supported network of interviewers, correctness of the questions in the questionnaire, transcripts technique, substantiation of the sample, etc.) can be evaluated, their quality is largely determined by the compliance with the principles of general scientific research. The most common qualitative characteristics of the "fake" sociology can include the following.

  • Unfitness of the method for the object and the purpose of the sociological research

In some cases a traditional questionnaire is not applicable, because most people often reply "as expected", i.e. within the given social expectations.

For example, a survey is uninformative when studying the cultural and linguistic stereotypes, value orientations, behaviors, protest activity, etc. In such cases linguistic and psychosemantic methods (content analysis, associative experiment, semantic differential, mediametry, etc.) are more useful.

  • Substitution of concepts, categories measured and, as a result, the object of the study.

For example, the study of the possible human behavioral strategies through identification of their value orientations becomes a common mistake or a deliberate public consciousness manipulation. However, the declarative value orientations do not always determine the actual behavior of a person - the needs, motives, and environmental conditions have much greater influence on their actions.

Thus, the three values in most post-Soviet countries are very positive and practically constant: family, health, wealth. As a rule, only the order of these three can change: young people have the family and the material well-being in the first place, the value of health becomes more important for the elderly. At the same time, according to the official statistics of the WHO, as well as government agencies (Ministries of Health, national statistical offices, etc.), it is the post-Soviet countries that rank first in the world in the number of abortions, suicides and divorces. This confirms the non-identity of the concepts of "value" and "behavior" and makes clear the contradiction "statement - fact"..

  • Identification of the subjective and the objective.

For example, since the 1990s up to the present time, the thesis about the "religious revival" and a high degree of religiosity of the post-Soviet society is often observed in the sociology works. The conclusion is based on the fact that, inter alia, in Belarus, the vast majority of the population (over 90%) identify themselves with some religion or denomination (mostly, Christianity). However, it is not correct to draw a conclusion about the religiosity of the society solely based on the subjective self-assessment of its members, because a number of other important parameters (religious behavior, outlook, etc.) are not taken into account.

Thus, the Belarusians, who identify themselves with Orthodoxy, are much more than those, who believe in God, and those, who believe in reincarnation (the doctrine that is incompatible with Christian ideas about the soul) are more numerous than the amount of the Orthodox. The population on the whole is not ready to burden itself with strict observance of rites and adheres to the eclectic ideas about the world in which the Christianity safely coexist with elements of paganism, belief in UFOs, corruption, brownies, cosmic intelligence, etc.

At the first glance, it is more difficult to recognize these manipulations than to evaluate the quality of sociological research on formal grounds. At the same time, the "spread" of certain "sensational information" is often designed to hit the social expectations and the reduction of the critical thinking of the audience (according to the principle "Oh, it takes little to deceive me! I cannot wait to be deceived!").

And if a consumer has long ago developed a stable immunity to the advertisements, then the user’s biased, thoughtful approach will generate new requirements for the broadcast information, simultaneously improving both its quality and level of maturity and self-consciousness of the society.

Also read: "Fake Sociology": a note for the user