Using Existing Statistics to Collect Social Research Data

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  • 0:07 Existing Statistics
  • 0:37 Prior Research
  • 2:24 Program Evaluation
  • 3:30 Caution
  • 3:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson explains the primary places a researcher can collect social data from others instead of collecting it themselves. The lesson also reminds researchers of a major pitfall in using other's data.

Existing Statistics

Sometimes the smartest way to conduct research is by looking at what is lying around. There are many people and institutions that have information that needs to be examined. Existing statistics are previously collected data that has been analyzed in at least one way. There are two primary ways a researcher can collect existing research: prior research and social programs. We will look at both of these and how a researcher can extract social data from them.

Prior Research

There are a lot of researchers out there collecting data. After they complete their statistical tests, the data doesn't disappear. In fact, ethical standards require you to keep the data for at least several years. So, a researcher could have a drawer in a cabinet simply dedicated to raw data they've collected. To make the discussion easier, we will call the researcher that did the original work and collected the data the original researcher and the researcher who wants to reanalyze the data the reanalyzing researcher.

The original researcher had an idea and collected opinions, surveys and information from participants. They then performed statistical tests to confirm or disprove a theory, likely by entering it into a computer program (because the statistics are often immensely complex if done by hand).

This means the original researcher has a computer file with all the information they collected. Besides the specific issue the original researcher looked into, they likely collected demographic data, which is information describing characteristics of a population. This might include, but is not limited to, a description of the participants':

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Political beliefs
  • Religion
  • Race or ethnicity

Now comes along our reanalyzing researcher. The reanalyzing researcher requests multiple original researchers for copies of their original work. The reanalyzing researcher then combines the demographic or the specific areas of interest in the original researchers' work, using existing research to say something about the population that hasn't been said before.

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