Recently SkepticalScience.com reprinted an interesting article: "Thinking is Power: The problem with 'doing your own research'” by Melanie Trecek-King Associate Professor of Biology at Massasoit Community College in Massachusetts, she also maintains the website Thinking is Power with a series called Don’t Trust Yourself.
The title and article caught my eye since I’m one of those who does a fair amount of my own “research” - someone who has also become leery of misleading labels and convinced of the importance of respecting definitions. Too often a group of people will be tossing around a term with everyone investing it with their own poetic license.
For example, poetically speaking I consider myself a “student of Earth,” but I don’t do any real research, any more than I’m a real Student.
Fact is, I’m a lifelong enthusiast who does homework, trying to learn what I can about my subject of the moment. It’s my honest curiosity that keeps me on the straight and narrow and defines the quality of my collective knowledge.
The serious college student, researcher, professor, scientist are on altogether different levels, ones that deserve to be recognized and respected by all enthusiasts. After all, they do all the hard work, they digest the data, coherently report on it and share their efforts with the rest of us - that's how we learn.
That’s why I think Melanie Trecek-King words are overdue and should be part of any young student’s reading list. They also belong on the enthusiast’s reading list because they make for a good self-evaluation checklist for those who fancy themselves lovers of learning and knowledge.
The professor’s article makes a fitting addition to my collection, and it gives me a chance to expand on her theme with the addition of some thoughts of my own, coming from the outside looking in, so to speak.
At first I wanted to select specific quotes, but her 900 word text is a concise whole that I couldn’t slice and dice without damaging, it deserves to be read in its entirety. I thank Professor Trecek-King for allowing me to repost her excellent article.
by Melanie Trecek-King
The phrase “do your own research” seems ubiquitous these days, often by those who don’t accept “mainstream” science (or news), conspiracy theorists, and many who fashion themselves as independent thinkers. On its face it seems legit. What can be wrong with wanting to seek out information and make up your own mind?
The problems with “doing your own research”
1. That’s not what research is.
Definitions matter. When scientists use the word “research,” they mean a systematic process of investigation. Evidence is collected and evaluated in an unbiased, objective manner, and those methods have to be available to other scientists for replication.
Conversely, when someone says they’re “doing their own research,” they mean using a search engine to find information that confirms what they already think is true. We are all prone to confirmation bias, and the effect is especially powerful when we want (or don’t want) to accept a conclusion.
Cc: Definitions matter.