Saturday, 15 August 2015

I was directed to some

research yesterday. It is research about a controversial issue and it was used as supporting evidence in a case in a court of law. The research was not only about a  controversial issue but it was also controversial in itself. 
I suspect the research was deliberately designed in order to support a point of view. It was not done to discover what people thought or believed. 
Of course it does not say that. It is very carefully designed. It has been through all the right academic review processes. It is said to be moral, ethical, and "robust". There are statistics which "prove" all this. Naturally they "prove" what people believe or want to believe. They are intended to manipulate. 
I read a fair bit of "social science" type research and this approach is not uncommon. "We want to find out if..." is actually, "We are going to show you...because it is what we already know or believe."
I started work on my doctoral thesis having read a great many pieces of research which all said the same thing. They said it in different ways and for different reasons but they all said it. I went along with it. After all I was a mere student and the people who were doing all this work were respected senior academics who were the writers of the text books and the papers. Some of them had spent their entire academic lives working in the area. Teachers of some students with special needs were taught to work with this "fact".
I had to change my methodological approach out of necessity. The children I was working with could not physically do the tasks that had previously been set to "prove" there was a problem. And, suddenly, I had another problem. The results were not the results everyone expected. There was a problem but it was not the problem I expected. 
I was told I must be doing something "wrong". I was sent back to my subjects to "try again" in a slightly different way - but still with their physical limitations in mind. I came back with the same results. My supervisor was not happy.
I wrote my thesis and submitted it. My examiners were not happy either but they accepted what I had written. They got around it in their own minds by deciding there was "an exception" to their research. Nothing changed. 
For other reasons, beyond the control of any of us, my thesis was never lodged in the university library. I imagine that was a great relief to those who had spent their lives researching "the problem". It didn't bother me because the work I did was used in a positive way - in just the way I intended in fact.
But I was reminded of all this yet again when the other research was passed to me as "proof". It isn't proof. I pointed out some flaws in the methodology. It made no difference. This is what they want to believe. It was accepted in a court of law. It must be right and it won't be going on appeal because people have the outcome they want.
This morning I read the editorial in our state newspaper. It takes, as it often does, a certain line of thought. "Bias" is not a word those writing the editorials would like used of themselves, particularly when talking about bias. But it is there. Facts are missing. A time line has been ignored. It is either sloppy research or it is because they want to "prove" something.
"Research" can be dangerous.

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