Quantitative Analysis, Qualitative Analysis, Critical Analysis

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By Dick Pellek

  Quantitative Analysis, Qualitative Analysis, Critical Analysis


Chemistry is fascinating but it is hard.  A chem major earns respect for the mere fact of choosing a field that contains as much mystery, uncertainty, and challenge as perhaps most anything else one might study in college. Indeed, there are challenges in the applied principles one finds in the broad fields of economics, banking, or finance but the building blocks of economics and finance have not changed much for centuries.  Thus, economics get the label as more art than science, and finance might qualify as belonging in the arts and sciences.   

When it comes to the so-called STEM sciences, as well, there are soft sciences and there are hard sciences.  There are applied sciences and there are pure sciences.  Botany and ecology are considered as applied sciences but only a few pure sciences are recognized: mathematics, physics, and chemistry.  The labeling does not stop there, it only starts there.

The field of chemistry is rich beyond imagination if for no other reason than it involves studying the inert, the organic, the passive, and the dynamic.  Sub-sets of chemistry include organic chemistry, petroleum chemistry, geochemistry, physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, soil chemistry, water chemistry, polymer chemistry and probably a few others.  A chem major at the undergraduate level can eventually go in many different directions.  But committed chem majors must travel a very challenging road, dressed in sturdy working clothes of knowledge of advanced mathematics, quantitative analysis, and qualitative analysis.  Along the way, budding chemists must also carry the beacon of critical analysis to light the way in darkness—and always have it at hand.


mock-up of chemical bonds and atoms


It is fundamental to know the difference between gold and fools gold (qualitative analysis and critical analysis) and chemists are expected to relate the percentage composition of one ingredient or element from others in a compound or admixture (quantitative analysis).  Impurities exist in virtually everything, and chemists must be able to identify and quantify the impurities (qualitative and quantitative analysis), for a host of practical reasons.  Think assay of ore.

A very small percentage of college-bound students elect to study chemistry and eventually become chemists in one branch or another of that broad science. Consequently, the demanding rigors of quantitative and qualitative analysis will become part of their curriculum. Other college majors may not be as defining or as demanding.  On the other hand, critical analysis is, or should be, in the curriculum of everyone who is able to think for themselves, in any field of study that they choose.

It takes no college experience or qualifying exams to travel the bumpy road of life armed with the beacon of critical analysis. Virtually everyone who fancies themselves as free thinkers must have a beacon of awareness that shines on the daily affairs we all experience.  The beacon of critical analysis can shine on the truth but it can also shine on sophistry and falsehood. A beacon is, after all, only a tool.  We can choose to turn it on, or we can choose to leave it unlit.  When facts do not fit our personal narratives, we can also choose to turn it off.  A tool is only effective when it is used, and only as efficient as the skill in application of the person using it. One anonymous quote says that the best tool is the tool best used.  

Non-chemists may not be formally studied in qualitative and quantitative analysis as academic credentials, but the tool of critical analysis is there for the taking.  It is a tool, first and foremost, but clarity of understanding of virtually anything requires that we use that tool to peer closely at the shape, color, and structures of the various elements in our daily universe.

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