Method versus Methodology
| Peter Klein |
Speaking of pet peeves, here’s another of mine: the regular misuse of the word “methodology” in academic papers. Methodology is the study of scientific methods, a branch of epistemology. Econometric techniques, strategies for gathering data, means of testing hypotheses, etc. are methods, not methodologies. Yet how many empirical papers include a section titled “Methodology” or “Data and Methodology”? It makes me cringe. “We use an instrumental-variables methodology,” or “our methodology employs case studies and structured interviews.” No, those are your methods. Unless you’re citing Popper or Kuhn or Lakatos or Feyerabend or Blaug or Mäki you probably don’t have a methodology section.
This passage from the American Heritage Dictionary (1992 edition) makes the point well:
In recent years . . . “methodology” has been increasingly used as a pretentious substitute for “method” in scientific and technical contexts, as in “The oil company has not yet decided on a methodology for restoring the beaches.” This usage may have been fostered in part by the tendency to use the adjective “methodological” to mean “pertaining to methods,” inasmuch as the regularly formed adjective “methodical” has been preempted to mean “orderly, systematic.” But the misuse of methodology obscures an important conceptual distinction between the tools of scientific investigation (properly “methods”) and the principles that determine how such tools are deployed and interpreted — a distinction that the scientific and scholarly communities, if not the wider public, should be expected to maintain.