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A comprehensive survey of the current and prospective uses of computers in the social sciences

Computer Applications in the Social Sciences

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Edward Brent, Jr. and Ronald E. Anderson

Providing both an introduction to computing and advice on computer applications, the authors examine available hardware and software with respect to the needs of the social scientist. The book offers a systematic framework for the use of computers, with particular focus on the "work station," the center of which is a personal computer connected to networks by a telephone-based modem.

The material ranges from sophisticated discussions of methodology to ideas for expanding everyday applications of computer techniques to virtual how-to-do-it advice. The various stages of academic work are addressed: from the research process (theory formulation, literature search, data gathering, etc.) to communicating with colleagues to teaching. The authors' encyclopedic coverage of computer applications in the social sciences includes such topics as simulation/modeling techniques, data management, statistical analysis, graphics, work processing, expert systems, and artificial intelligence. The chapters also review technical literature on computer hardware and software, behavioral literature (studies of how people actually use computers), and prescriptive literature on the research process itself.

Computer Applications in the Social Sciences is not a computer manual, but a reference that includes sample programs and printouts for illustration. Brent and Anderson make compelling arguments for the importance of computer literacy and offer specific advice on how computers can improve efficiency and assist in creatively manipulating and presenting social science research.

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Excerpt

Preface

This book is intended for anyone curious about how computer resources enhance the practice of social research. Comprehensive treatments of many different computer applications make this book an extensive resource for practicing social scientists. Chapters for those who are new to the subject make the book a painless yet effective route to learning about using computers in social research. To accommodate readers with diverse backgrounds, we define technical terms when they are first mentioned and then list them in the glossary.

The only prerequisite for reading and using Computer Applications in the Social Sciences is that the reader be slightly familiar with the approaches and methods of social science research.

While we anticipate that the predominant use of this book will be as a reference or self-study resource, it will also serve as a text for college courses. It is designed for use as a supplementary text in undergraduate courses on research methods and as the principal text in courses on computer applications in the social sciences. Such courses are now taught at all levels, from community colleges to Ph.D. programs.

The social sciences overlap with many other disciplines, including library science, public administration, planning, architecture, applied statistics, home economics, and so forth. The mutual interests of the social sciences with these disciplines become especially apparent from the vantage of computing. Practicing specialists in numerous fields will find that such chapters as "Writing and Rewriting" and "Graphing" are as applicable to educational researchers, librarians, and counselors as they are to sociologists and economists. Although this book can be used in the classroom, it will be equally useful at home, in libraries, research institutes, government agencies, and other professional offices.

Computer Applications in the Social Sciences is for anyone who does social research or aspires to do so. If you are such a person, you will find something of interest in this sourcebook. If you are quite illiterate about computer matters, Part One will give you the jargon you need to get more deeply involved. If you are experienced with computers but have not kept up with available software, especially microcomputer programs, Part Two will help you because it surveys the software tools of particular interest to social researchers. No matter what level of computer sophistication you bring with you as a reader, you will find something useful in Part Three, which describes the application of computers to the specific tasks of social research. The last section of this book, Part Four, offers the reader a broad perspective on the role of computers in social research. This section, like Part Three, is useful for those lacking computer expertise, but it is also recommended reading for computer specialists because it serves as an agenda for the next few years, specifically an agenda for harnessing computer power for the social sciences.

Only a few years ago this preface would have argued that social scientists should take time to learn about computers and how to use them. The emergence of relatively inexpensive, all-purpose microcomputers with substantial disk storage has rendered such an argument trivial because now it is nearly impossible to find a social scientist who does not admit to the need for more computer learning, even if only to understand the negative potential for computers. The last chapter concludes with a balanced perspective on the social impact of computers by reviewing the major issues in the context of the future.

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Contents

Part I: An Introduction to Computers
1. Introduction: Computer Literacy and the Social Sciences
2. Computer Hardware, Configurations, and Peripherals
3. Computer Software: Languages, Operating Systems, and Programs
4. Computing Environments
5. Managing Social Science Programming

Part II: Software Tools
6. Available Software Tools
7. Issues and Strategies for Applications Management

Part III: Applications in the Social and Behavioral Sciences
8. Theorizing about and Representing Social Data
9. Bibliographic Retrieval and Literature Reviews
10. Simulating, Modeling, and Planning
11. Managing Data
12. Analyzing Quantitative Data
13. Analyzing Text
14. Graphing
15. Writing and Rewriting
16. Communicating and Collaborating
17. Learning and Teaching
18. Expert Systems and Artificial Intelligence Applications in the Social Sciences
19. Social Issues and the Future of Computing

References
Glossary
Index

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About the Author(s)

Edward E. Brent, Jr. is a Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Ronald E. Anderson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis.

Subject Categories

Sociology

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