In defence of exploratory research: A reply to critics

Keywords: race, wildlife conservation, materialism, social science, red-green divide


My Commentary ‘Why are black South African students less likely to consider studying biological sciences?’ (S Afr J Sci. 2020;116(5/6)) has been criticised on a variety of grounds. Many of these involve misrepresentations or misunderstandings of my research. Some appear to be rooted in hostility towards quantitative social science paradigms. Many condemn what they see as racist assumptions and interpretations. I defend my explicitly exploratory research, showing that the research design was in line with standards for such research and was rooted in well-established existing literatures. I dispute that my research was in any way racist or entailed racial essentialism. Rather, it emphasized that attitudes and beliefs were better predictors of study and career choices than self-identified racial identities per se. I defend the analysis of the ‘red-green divide’, materialism, attitudes to wildlife and experience of pets and attitudes on other issues. I acknowledge some useful suggestions for further and fuller research to enhance an evidence-based understanding of the challenges of transformation facing the University of Cape Town and the conservation sector more broadly.

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