Review: D. Paul Sullins, Keeping the Vow: The Untold Story of Married Priests

As part of my efforts efforts to reduce confidence in survey research (any instrument or procedure that asks questions, which may, or may not, be answered) I post critiques of books based on survey research on Amazon, my blog, and Facebook. Here’s my assessment—actually, a demolition—of D. Paul Sullins, Keeping the Vow: The Untold Story of Married Priests:

The Problem with Self-Reports
I don’t recommend Keeping the Vow because it’s based on self-reports (in this instance, answers to questions generated by interviews and surveys of married priests and their wives, supposed-to-be-celibate priests and bishops, active lay Catholics, and a few other varieties of believers and churchmen). The problem with self-reports is (as Lewontin phrased it in the New York Review of Books, April 20, 1995): “How are we to know what is true if we must depend on what interested parties tell us?” Well, you can’t! You can’t know what’s true when all you have are self-reports, when all you have are answers to questions. It’s not that every answer is incorrect. Even priests (married or otherwise) might sometimes tell the truth about their sex lives (and other matters) but when all you have are their answers (and/or the answers of other self-interested parties, such as their bishops) it’s impossible to know which, if any, self-report is correct or incorrect. When all you have are self-reports/answers to questions, all you have is unreliable information.

If you want to find out about married Catholic priests (or anything else) don’t ask. Instead, observe, analyze contents of documents, and use other “proper” (as I call them in The Problem with Survey Research) methods of data collection and proper research designs. Only proper procedures produce reliable results.

About georgebeam

George Beam is an educator and author. The perspectives that inform his interpretations of the topics of this blog–-as well as his other writings and university courses -–are system analysis, behaviorism, and Internet effects. Specific interests include quality management, methodology, and politics. He is Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Public Administration; Affiliated Faculty, Department of Political Science; and, previously, Head, Department of Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago
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