Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/164

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
154
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

or a negative quantity? Is its sign plus or minus? That is usually the important question for the sociological student.

Now it happens that a great many investigations in descriptive sociology do not as yet admit of the introduction of exact statistical—that is, arithmetical—inquiries which, nevertheless, do admit the use of algebraically quantitative methods. In the monographic description of a community many questions arise which can not be answered by the entry of figures in a column, but which could be answered by entering in a column a symbol indicating that a certain trait, habit, or choice could be predicated of a large majority, or of a small majority, or of only a large minority, or of only a small minority of the entire population. That is to say, it often happens that an observer who can not take a perfect census (getting answers to all his questions from every individual in the community), and who therefore can not fill out his columns with arithmetical values, can, by such interviewing as is possible to him and by such an examination of the objective products of social activity as are open to the inspection of any one who chooses to observe them critically, determine with absolute certainty whether certain things are true of majorities or only of minorities.

Suppose, for example, that a traveler is studying an out-of-the-way settlement, or a tribe, which presents many points of interest that are comparatively novel. All who are familiar with the narratives of travel and exploration which Mr. Spencer has used as data for his Descriptive Sociology are aware that they are almost totally devoid of system. The reader is told that such marriage customs, such clan relationships, such political institutions, such industrial operations, have been observed. The all-important coefficient is left out. What the student of sociology would most of all like to know is how many individuals in the community manifest such or such a trait; how many have such or such a habit; how many profess such or such a belief; how many adhere to this organization, how many to that. But since this exact arithmetical knowledge usually can not be obtained within the limited time and under the circumstances of a traveler's researches, he should try to get at least partially quantitative results by noting in every instance whether the phenomenon observed is true of a majority or only of a minority of the people under investigation.

This simple method admits of a high degree of refinement by the obvious device of subdividing the total human mass under observation into enumeration units. If, for example, we are studying the social character and activities of the people of the United States, we may take the fifty Commonwealths and Territories as enumeration units. Making out a tabular form, we may enter