Introducing the key principles of qualitative research to the general audience via traditional media is not an easy task; however, despite the fact that Erin Brockovich featured a range of elements that are typical for qualitative research, it still became extremely popular among the general audience and was received well by most critics. A closer look at the way in which Erin Brockovich carries out her investigation will reveal that she adopts the key approaches of qualitative research in order to identify, acquire and interpret the data concerning the illegal toxic waste disposal methods used by the PG&E Company.
Survey Research as a Data Collection Tool: Discussion
Displaying scientific research as something exciting and enticing is a very complicated task. As a rule, these are the results that the audience is concerned with; the process of data location, collection, and analysis is often viewed as boring and, therefore, is frequently dismissed in a number of movies. Erin Brockovich, however, offers an entirely new way of looking at research; by incorporating the basic elements of a drama, a comedy, and, surprisingly enough, a qualitative study, it tricks the audience into viewing research from the perspective of an inquisitive scientist.
As far as the type of research carried out in the movie is concerned, a qualitative study can be considered a proper name for the research that the lead character had to carry out in order to prove the unlawfulness of the actions taken by the company. Seeing how vast and all-embracing the concept of qualitative research is, the definition can be narrowed down to a case study.
Data Collection Method Used by Erin Brockovich
As far as the data collection method used in the movie Erin Brockovich is concerned, it can be defined as a mixture of interviews, historical research, and a basic, or general, research. Indeed, according to the movie, Brockovich investigates the records of the company in an attempt to collect the information that could be used as evidence for the organization’s harmful actions jeopardizing the well-being of the residents of the area.
Hence, it can be assumed that Brockovich uses historical research in order to identify the company’s patterns of toxic waste disposal: “Look at these readings for Christ’s sake. PG&E’s own technicians documented toxic levels of hexavalent chromium in those test wells on numerous occasions” (Danny DeVito, 2000). Another tool for retrieving the data, which the lead character used to prove the guilt of the company, general research (American Psychological Association, 2010) deserves a mentioning.
Indeed, she brushes through a range of papers and has to get a general idea about the key concepts related to toxicity, toxic materials, hazardous waste, etc. The last, but definitely not the least, the results of her interviews with the people, who have suffered at the hands of the company, deserve a mentioning as the research tool: “I was just over in the library there, asking a mess of questions about – I guess they call it toxicology? – and the fella there told me to find you, ’cause you know all about it” (Danny DeVito, 2000).
Conducting the Assessment: The Choice of the Evaluation Method
In order to evaluate the harm that the PG&E Company had been doing to the local residents for years, Erin and Edward Masry, her lawyer, seem to have adopted the approach that is traditionally defined as Popay, Roger and Williams’ Evaluation Framework. It is quite remarkable that the movie does not feature any questions to the research data; neither do the characters use any set of questions in order to evaluate the information acquired from the interviews.
Instead, the lead characters consider the information obtained in the course of their investigation from the position of methodological soundness; in other words, they consider the credibility of the data retrieved from the interview participants based on the interviewees’ state of mental health, the grunge that the interviewees had towards the PG&E Company, etc.
Ethical Implications of Erin Brockovich’s Actions: Saving the Day
It would be wrong to assume that the real process of the investigation carried out by Erin Brockovich was ethically unblemished – after all, it is hard to retrieve the information concerning the production processes of a specific company, and a company that breaks the law by contaminating the environment at that. The movie, however, features no deviations from the existing ethical principles; quite on the contrary, the lead is often viewed as the saving grace and the character that remains ethically superior to her opponents.
This does beg the question of whether the goal of the research, people’s health in the given case, can be viewed as the justification for the moves that may be viewed as ethically questionable at best. On the one hand, the breach of the basic ethical postulates, such as the informed consent of the participants, may be seen as permissible once the outcomes of the research are bound to be beneficial to the parties involved (Houser, 2015, p. 80).
On the other hand, the Kantian ethics presuppose that the action itself is not supposed to bring harm to any living being. Since one of the research participants in Eric Brockovich’s case, particularly, the company, did take impressive losses, the approach adopted by the researcher can be hardly seen as legitimate. Hence, the cases as the one under discussion should be viewed from the perspective of “the lesser evil,” i.e., the choice of the course of actions that bring the least harm to those involved.
American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. 6th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Danny DeVito (Executive Producer). (2000). Erin Brockovich. Universal City, CA: Universal Studios.
Houser, J. (2015). Nursing research: Reading, using, and creating evidence. 3rd ed. Boston: Jones & Bartlett.