On lumping and splitting

16Jun05

Was reading this line from Bill Bryson’s Short History …whether you are a lumper or a splitter, as they say in the biological world…. Any taxonomer can be either a lumper or a splitter.

Right, that is the difference between quantitative research and qualitative research.

Quantitative research lumps – studies large groups and identifies patterns across these groups – the smaller niggling inconsistencies and dissenting voices are pushed under the carpet – they may not be statistically significant (to use this term very loosely). Think of this in terms of a simple majority vote – what about the ‘minority’ that did not vote for the issue?

Qualitative research – is about splitting – qualitative research digs out similarities across groups (or audience segments) and keeps a keen eye open for differences within a group / segment – the lone dissenting voice – which often may go contrary to what the ‘lumped’ data suggests – but may be more significant than anything that the numbers signify – as marketer after disbelieving marketer has found out…

But this is not one of those age-old arguments about which methodology is better – I for one believe, methods is as methods does – but the debate will go on…

Here is another take

a splitter is an individual who might spend hours pondering whether a glass is half empty or half full with water.

a lumper is an individual who observes a glass which is either half empty or half full with water, and declares that it is a glass of water.

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