February 14, 2023
Professor of International Relations Rose McDermott recently authored a paper published in The Leadership Quarterly titled, "On the scientific study of small samples: Challenges confronting quantitative and qualitative methodologies."
Important phenomena and events are often rare. Yet it is often the most unusual examples and cases that scholars most often wish to explain or predict. The challenges associated with studying small samples raises the question of how best to study small samples when examples of a given phenomenon can be both rare and idiosyncratic. Yet the ability to explain or predict very significant events, such as the outbreak of war, often depends on the ability to develop accurate causal models that makes the relationship between variables clear. Developing accurate causal models becomes especially important when the hope is to move from correlation—prediction based on association—to causation, which entails explanation based on the actual mechanism; it is usually properly identified causal models that can accurately inform policy (Shmueli, 2010).