The Role of Values in the Explication and Operationalization of Constructs in Social Science and Medicine

Dr. Morgan K. Thompson (postdoctoral project, ongoing)

The aim of my project is to examine and analyze the role of values in concept explication and operationalization in social science and medicine. Concepts like racism, gender, and so on, serve multiple social, political, and epistemic goals. In policy-focused research that employs these concepts, researchers must decide how to make these concepts amenable to empirical study while retaining connections to their use in social and political contexts. Choices about how to explicate these concepts have impacts beyond mere agenda setting: certain conceptual understandings afford particular methods and thus, impact what evidence is produced. My work broadly examines how values influence research at the stage of conceptual clarification and experimentation.

My project has four aims: (1) I analyze the relationship between Carnapian explication and operationalization of concepts in science. (2) I describe the role that values play in explicating and operationalizing constructs by discussing detailed case studies, such as the operationalization of racism in public health research across the social sciences. (3) I examine various distinctions between epistemic and non-epistemic values and determine whether these distinctions are appropriate for debates about the choice of explication or operationalization of constructs. (4) I assess the operationalization of non-scientific concepts (such as those used by public communities) and the legitimate (or illegitimate) ways non-epistemic values are operationalized for the purposes of scientific research. To so do, I consider whether scientists have special responsibilities to particular non-scientific communities and if so, the nature of these responsibilities and under what conditions they hold.