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VALIDITY, RELIABILITY, ACCURACY, AND PRECISION

Validity refers to the accuracy and trustworthiness of instruments, data, and findings in research. Nothing in research is more important than validity.

The Validity of Instruments and Data

Are the instruments that were used to measure something valid? Are SAT and GRE scores, for example, valid instruments for measuring the ability of students to get good grades? If they are, then are grades a valid measure of how smart students are? Is the question ‘‘Do you practice polytheistic fetishism?’’ a valid instrument for measuring religious practices? No, it isn’t, because the concept of “polytheistic fetishism’’ is something that is meaningful only to specialists in the comparative study of religion.

Asking people that question is asking them to think in categories that are alien to their culture. Is the instrument ‘‘How long does it take you to drive to work each day?’’ a valid one for measuring the amount of time it takes people to drive to work each day? That depends on how accurate you want the data to be. If you want the data to be accurate to within, say, 20 minutes on, say 70% of occasions, then the instrument is probably valid. If you want the data to be accurate to, say, within 5 minutes on, say, 90% of occasions, then the instrument is probably not valid because people just can’t dredge up the information you want at that level of accuracy.

The validity of data is tied to the validity of instruments. If questions asking people to recall their behavior are not valid instruments for tapping into informants’ past behavior, then the data retrieved by those instruments are not valid either.

 
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