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This is the final piece in an exchange of views between Robert Harris and George W. Brown, originally published in Medical Sociology News Volumes 5 and 6, between January 1978 and January 1979. All four parts are published here, together, for the first time.

Science and Common Sense: A Final Reply

George W. Brown
Bedford College
London, UK

Originally published in MSN Volume 6, Issue 1, January/February 1979



In his rejoinder to my reply ‘Science and Common Sense’ to his original statement in the January number of Medical Sociology News, Harris has ignored my points and turns from broad criticism to a specific issue concerned with analysis of data. Since he shows here an equal penchant for seeing only what he wants to see, I am writing a brief and final reply.

He claims that the EE (expressed emotion) index is no more than a measure of dislike. He notes that only 7 of the 45 families high on EE are 'added' when high emotional over-involvement is taken into account and uses this to argue for the overwhelming importance of ‘dislike’ in the EE index. However, he fails to note that emotional over-involvement only produced relapse for patients returning to live with parents - a point emphasised in our paper. For these patients returning to parents the emotional over-involvement measure makes a quite sizeable contribution to the index. But this is not all. It is misleading to refer to patients ‘added’ to the index in the context of his argument as what is added depends on an arbitrary decision of what measure is considered first. If, in forming the index, we had first considered emotional over-concern rather than criticism and only ‘added‘ criticism at the second stage, double the number of patients would have been contributed by emotional concern measure to those high on EE. Of patients returning to high EE homes, 48% were included for criticism alone, 24% for emotional over-involvement alone and 28% for both criticism
and over-involvement. There is therefore no justification in any theoretical interpretation of these results for giving priority to criticism. Harris confuses this point by selecting for his illustration mutually exclusive categories - you either play for Manchester United or someone else. Once this is accepted the issue of importance cannot be sorted out along the common sense lines advocated by Harris: and clearly over-concern is not the same phenomenon as dislike.

Harris by talking in general about dislike also manages to obscure another issue – that of of categorising
degree of dislike. It was when only a particular number of critical comments were exceeded that criticism predicted relapse i.e. seven comments. Even if dislike is an important component of our measure (as it probably is) just how much and of what kind has still to be established.

Harris has largely rested his case again systematic measurement in social research by setting up a straw-man account of scientific activity. I earlier argued that his account is grossly misleading and I will not return to this. However, irrespective of the merits of my argument about scientific activity there is no doubt that much sociological measurement is inadequate. Harris appears to be concerned to denigrate the London measures because, without such work, it would be easier to equate these widespread shortcomings with a scientific approach. I am convinced that they have in fact nothing to do with science as such. They result largely from ignorance and the need to measure things on the cheap.

Since Harris has failed to sustain either the case against science or against our measures, he might, I suggest, consider the implications of his failure for current research in medical sociology.

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