This is another cross post from my Masters blog.
I love Jean Piaget. As a parent, I have been a witness to his research in living colour with my own kids. While they are still young, I can see their transition from Sensorimotor to Preoperational and, as my daughter closes in on 6, her emerging Concrete Operations. In the week before I began my residency, she spent some time demonstrating for me her newly found ability to add and subtract on paper.
But the thing about Piaget is, his research methods (let me struggle here for the correct academic word) sucked. Okay, maybe they didn’t suck as he was already a published researcher before his seminal works were written, but the works that have been the most influential today were largely based on observations of his own children. Talk about bias, conflict of interest, and a whole raft of ethical red flags, let alone such a fully qualitative approach with an extremely small sample size.
How could he develop such resilient theories of development that, as history has shown, have held up quite nicely to both time and academic scrutiny to become fundamental building blocks in the the field of developmental psychology? I mean, the guy is listed as one of the 10 Most Influential Psychologists. Pretty impressive for someone who got to hang out with his kids all day.
So, as I enter into the world of research and critical thinking, the question for me is this; Judged by today’s peer reviewed, ethical board, informed consent need to be published in recognized academic journal world, would Piaget get published? Would his ideas see the light of day if he were conducting research in this environment?
Yes, it is not fair to judge yesterday’s research methodology by today’s standards. If we did, so much research that has contributed the basic blocks of human psychology (Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment comes to mind) would be tossed out. And I am not advocating tossing out all ethics and research methodologies. That would be silly. But still, as we delve into the realm of research, the figure of Piaget looms in my mind. While I work on developing my critical thinking skills, I am aware of the danger of critical thinking sliding into cynicism and missing out on the likes of a Jean Piaget.