Friday, March 18, 2011

Appropriation of Research

 crocus, blooming in the woods

I've found myself annoyed lately by certain information labeled research. Lots of this so-called research seems very questionable, and possibly corrupted by money and special interests, yet giving it the name research lends it an air of authority. True scientific research, on the other hand, is typically difficult. It is rarely able to prove something conclusively and is honest about its limitations. In the face of confirmation bias or blindness caused by over-specialization, it is hard enough to test a hypothesis fairly without vested interests pushing one way or another.
The problem is two-fold: There is misinterpretation of otherwise valid research, and there is research that receives the bulk of its funding from a non-objective third party and so has incentive to ask or avoid certain questions. Because valid research is often inaccessible to the general public behind paywalls, and because published research is not required to reveal the source of its funding, the entire issue largely goes unnoticed, unexamined, or ignored.  

At best it is unflattering to those involved when research is used to score points in matters of popular persuasion. I'd rather not give specific examples, because in some cases the original researchers may have been well-intentioned, but it seems that nearly every day there is news of some partisan group or commercial entity seizing upon a Research Study as validation of its platform or product. 

This may be because having an opinion, and arguing endlessly and blindly in support of it, is much easier than revealing objective, neutral truth through methodical research. I suppose it's possible for a researcher in higher education to remain untarnished by special interests, but it takes a lot of luck to repeatedly make high-profile, scientifically valid, and credible discoveries. Meanwhile, funding to support research is too often awarded to support someone's agenda.

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