Johannes van Kessel Publishing


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Advising on research methods: Proceedings of the 2007 KNAW Colloquium edited by Herman Adèr and Gideon Mellenbergh contains a number of newly written articles based on lectures held at the 2007 KNAW colloquium.

The physical book is sold out, a few copies are still available at the Publisher’s. February 2014 an eBook version was made available.

An important part of the job of most methodologists is advising substantive researchers on research methods. Methodological consultancy impresses outsiders as an art, and methodologists sometimes reinforce this impression. However, useful information is available on both the communication (see, for example Derr, 2000) and content (see, for example Adèr, Mellenbergh, & Hand, 2008) aspects of methodological consultancy, and this knowledge can be passed on to starting methodological consultants.

The colloquium covered a broad spectrum of consultancy topics. Several speakers extended their contribution to a paper which is published in the present proceedings of the colloquium.

Advising on research methods in a multi-disciplinary setting is discussed by both Janice Derr and Hilde Tobi. Derr describes barriers to the effectiveness of statistical consultancy in multi-disciplinary settings, and practical ways to overcome them. Tobi takes Lattuca’s distinction between four types of interdisciplinarity as a starting point to describe the role of the methodological consultant in each of these four types (Lattuca, 2003). She also discusses the possibilities and challenges of working in interdisciplinary research settings.

Gerald van Belle links statistics to everyday experience. He considers statistics as a distillation of human experience of variation and causation. Statistical consultants can take advantage of this link by appealing to their clients’ experience of variation and causation. Victor van Daal comments on Van Belle’s views. He expands Van Belle’s topics of variation and causation by connecting them to De Groot’s phases of the empirical cycle of research (De Groot, 1969).

The contributions of both Robert Pool and Jules Ellis are on methodological consultancy in practical setting. Pool describes a clinical trial on the prevention of HIV transmission in Africa. The exclusive use of conventional surveys and questionnaires is out of the question in this context. He describes pitfalls and solutions of getting information on the sensitive topic of this clinical trial. Ellis reports consultancy to companies, which did research on the financing of the health care in The Netherlands. He discusses the effectiveness of advice given the constraints of prior ideas and requirements of decision makers and stakeholders.

The contributions of Bo Lu and Marijtje van Duijn and of Herman Adèr are more theoretical than the other contributions. Lu and Van Duijn discuss the use of propensity scores to reduce selection bias in observational studies. They present a simulation study to illustrate that propensity score matching can be effective in reducing selection bias. Their contribution shows that the propensity score should be part of every consultant’s methodological toolbox. Adèr addresses two related topics. First, the importance of the temporal order of observations and events. Second, the application of research strategies, such as structural equation modelling and propensity score matching. The two topics are related because the application of a research strategy implies a temporal order of actions, which have to be taken. His contribution alerts consultants to the importance of temporal order and the application of ordered actions in a research strategy.

The book has been indexed for Google books. This makes it possible to have a good look at the contents:

Table of contents
Preface by Don Mellenbergh
Having an impact in a multi-disciplinary setting
by Janice Derr
Having an impact in a multi-disciplinary setting: The search for a chameleon by Hilde Tobi
Statistics as a distillation of everyday experience
by Gerald Van Belle
The advisory process and the empirical cycle according to De Groot by Victor van Daal
Some issues arising from the use of qualitative methods in clinical trials by Robert Pool
Methodological and statistical consulting in research for policy makers in health care finance by Jules Ellis
Reducing selection bias using propensity score matching by Bo Lu and Marijtje van Duijn
Temporal considerations and Strategies by Herman Adèr



Janice Derr is the author of the book ‘Statistical consulting: A guide to effective communication’ (Derr, 2000), written when she was managing director of the statistical consulting center at Pennsylvania state University. She is now working at the U. S. Food and Drug Administration.

Hilde Tobi is an associate professor Research Methodology at the Social Sciences department of Wageningen University and Research center. She is consulted by students and scientists with a background in social sciences, public health, animal sciences and environmental sciences. She has taught research methodology, epidemiology and statistics courses in several disciplines. She is interested in training for advising on research methodology and has published on this in the context of Biostatistics (Tobi, Kuik, Bezemer, & Ket, 2001). Her research interest is in the development and assessment of data collection tools, particularly in a multidisciplinary and multicultural setting.

Gerald van Belle is the author of the book ‘Statistical rules of thumb’ of which the second edition will appear this year (2008). He holds a joint appointment at the department of Biostatistics and Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington. Current interests are in applications of Item Response Theory in medicine.

Victor van Daal did a Masters in Experimental Psychology and worked after his dissertation, entitled ’Computer-based Reading and Spelling Practice for Young Dyslexics’ for several years at both the Free University and at the University of Amsterdam. From 2000 till 2004 was he the Director of the Dyslexia Unit at the University of Wales Bangor. Since 2005 holds he a professorship in Special Education at the University of Stavanger, Norway. His current research interests include developmental disorders, second language acquisition, and bilingualism.

Jules Ellis is an assistant professor at the department of Psychology and Cognitive sciences at Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. He teaches research methods and statistics and has written a series of text books on the subject (Ellis, 2003–2004). He has long-standing experience as a statistical advisor both in industry and at university. He has his own business (‘Ellis Statistische Consulten’) offering statistical and methodological consultancy services.

Bo Lu did his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania with a thesis on Propensity scores. His tutor was Paul Rosenbaum. He is now with the College of Public Health at Ohio State University.

Marijtje van Duyn is an associate professor of statistics in the Department of Sociology at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Her research is in the field of development and application of statistical models, with a special interest in random effects (multilevel) models for non-normal data, as applied in item response theory and social network analysis. Next to teaching undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate courses in statistics, she is involved in the statistical part of research of (graduate) students and scientists in the social and (bio)medical sciences as a consultant or co-author.

Robert Pool is an anthropologist. Until recently he worked at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, presently also at the Center for International Health, University of Barcelona. His has a broad interest in research related to social aspects of Medicine (See, for instance, his book on Euthasania: Pool (2000)). He spent eight years in Tanzania and Uganda carrying out social scientific research relating to various aspects of HIV/AIDS. His present research mainly involves integrating anthropological methods into large multi-center clinical trials, particularly relating to malaria and HIV, though he carries out smaller and more traditionally anthropological studies as well. His methodological interest is in the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods.

Herman Adèr has been a statistical consultant for many years, first at the Psychology department of the Free University in Amsterdam, later at the department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Recent research includes work on the representation of methodological knowledge by diagrams, the interaction between qualitative and quantitative research methods and model search methods. With Gideon Mellenbergh and David Hand, he has written the book: Advising on research methods: A consultant’s companion, which appeared in 2008 (Adèr et al., 2008).

Don Mellenbergh is emeritus professor of Psychological Methods at the Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam. His research has been on different topics of Psychometrics: construction of educational and psychological tests, psychometric decision making, differential item functioning, and the conceptual analysis of psychometric models. He has a long-standing experience in methodological consultancy in different fields, such as clinical and health psychology, industrial and organizational psychology, educational research, social dentistry, and psychiatry.


   Adèr, H. J., Mellenbergh, G. J., & Hand, D. J.  (2008). Advising on research methods: A consultant’s companion. Huizen: Johannes van Kessel. (With contributions by David Hand)

   De Groot, A. D.  (1969). Methodology. The Hague, The Netherlands: Mouton.

   Derr, J. A.  (2000). Statistical Consulting: A guide to effective communication. Pacific Grove, CA: Duxbury Press.

   Ellis, J. L. (2003–2004). Statistiek voor de psychologie deel 1–4 [Statistics for psychologists part 1–4]. Amsterdam: Boom.

   Lattuca, L. R. (2003). Creating interdisciplinarity: Grounded definitions from college and university faculty. History of Intellectual Culture, 3(1). Retrieved from

   Pool, R. (2000). Negotiating a Good Death: Euthanasia in the Netherlands. Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press.

   Tobi, H., Kuik, D. J., Bezemer, P. D., & Ket, P. (2001). Towards a curriculum for the consultant biostatistician: Identification of central disciplines. Statistics in Medicine, 20, 3921–3929.



Last updated November 16, 2014
© Johannes van Kessel Publishing