Lab Rats

LAB RATS….What is it they say about college students? That they’re the white lab rats of the social sciences? Eszter Hargittai, noting yet another report based on a study of a small number of college students, complains about this:

There are several fields that base a good chunk of their empirical research on studies of students. This is usually done due to convenience. And perhaps regarding some questions, age and educational level do not matter. But the issue is rarely addressed directly. In many instances it seems problematic to assume that a bunch of 20-year-olds in college are representative of the entire rest of the population. So why write it up that way then?

….This is one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to certain types of scholarship. And I do mean scholarship. Because it is not just the journalistic reports that make the leap. The academic articles themselves use that kind of language.

To make it even worse, the particular study she highlights is about sexual response in men. What are the odds that any conclusions about sex based on a study of 20-year-olds would be applicable to other age groups as well?

As an aside, my particular pet peeve in this area is slightly different: surveys that purport to show how stupid kids are these days. 50% of high school juniors can’t locate Belgium on a map! Fine, but how many 40-year-olds can find Belgium on a map?

But I’ve complained about this before, haven’t I?