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Introduction to Scientific Research Methods in Geography.

Introduction to Scientific Research Methods in Geography. by Daniel R. Montello and Paul C. Sutton. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2006, xiv + 303 pp., paper US$46.95 (ISBN 1-4129-0287-8)

Dan Montello and Paul Sutton's well-written book on how to pursue geographic inquiry using the scientific method and related research techniques should become required reading for many present and future geographers. Even researchers who do not traditionally employ the scientific method, or do not necessarily adhere to all of its principles, will find this book a useful addition to their collection. It covers not only topics germane to the breadth of human geography but offers material that all geographers, human and physical alike, will find relevant. My expectation is that while this book will primarily be used for undergraduate courses in research and quantitative methods, graduate students in geography will also find it a useful resource. One of the book's strengths is the manner in which the authors ground the use of the scientific method in geography's varied traditions and history. Its systematic presentation intuitively leads the reader through the process of conducting scientific research while offering important lessons on the reality of asking and answering geographic research questions in a rigorous and scientifically informed manner.

Throughout the book the authors elucidate the reader on important aspects of the development of the discipline and on some of the keystone events in our shared history that influences methodology and practice. From a brief historical account of geography's development in the nineteenth century, through the so-called quantitative revolution, to geography's post-positivist response, the authors provide a rich context for understanding the importance of pursuing geographic inquiry. For instance, in chapter 3, 'Data collection in geography', they describe qualitative and quantitative methods, and how both (or more correctly, any methodology falling on the continuum between the two) can be used in science-based geographic inquiry. These distinctions represent a nice way to capture the 'quantitative revolution' in geography; the scientific method is just one way to build knowledge and geographers interested in a variety of topics using different methods can benefit from considering and understanding how to employ the types of research methods described in this book.

The nature of the book is such that a reader will find value whether he or she is a first time geography researcher or a seasoned practitioner. My experience has been that in many graduate programs in geography the student complement comes from a variety of backgrounds and one of the challenges departments face is getting this diverse group 'up to speed' so they have the skills and abilities to complete a thesis and/or dissertation in geography. Montello and Sutton have provided an essential geographic context for applying a scientific approach to research that will help even advanced graduate students make a smooth transition to the discipline. For the seasoned geographer this introductory text will prove useful as a reference and guide as new research is pursued and already learned concepts are applied in fresh settings.

This book strikes a balance between the need to cover the scientific method independent of a specific field (discipline generic) and those aspects of employing scientific research methods that are relevant or potentially unique to geography (geography specific). Some of the latter include spatial sampling, geodesy as a mitigating factor in making physical measurements, scale as an integral research concept, employing census data, maps for data display, working with geographic information and some of the special cases of ethics in research that apply to geography. Beyond geography, they cover all the essentials in detail, and with clarity--generating research questions, collecting data, measuring, observing and assessing phenomena, research design (experimental and non-experimental), sampling, analysis, communication, reliability and validity, scientific communication and research ethics. One final comment on this geographic and non-geographic distinction is related to my current position as the associate director for a spatially focused research institute at an institution without a geography department. In this capacity I have found the sections of Montello and Sutton book that cover the geographically and spatially unique aspects of using the scientific method particularly valuable. I'm often surprised at how often non-geographers overlook some of the unique aspects of working with spatial data or asking spatial questions. This book has already proven a useful resource for responding to many of these inquiries. I imagine there are many geographers working in collaboration with non-geographers facing similar situations.

Given that the methods described in the book are not new or revolutionary the coverage is appropriate and communicated clearly. The authors have taken care to present the book in a fashion that won't come across as being directed at any subset of geography. For that matter, in many sections the book goes a long way towards bridging some very old and, in some cases, still present divides in our discipline. Important parts of our shared history are bound up in methodological differences, and while many of these differences are real and help us define what we do as geographers, Montello and Sutton have taken the time to find some common ground many us (faculty, students, practitioners, etc.) will find useful in our daily work.


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Author:Bell, Scott
Publication:The Canadian Geographer
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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