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Observations on the world of research
by Joseph Gatt
2015-11-28 08:44:31
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Having been involved in the world of research for 10 years and having seen and sometimes advised a number of researchers, I came across several types of research that I would categorize below. Some research papers belong to several of these categories.

Armchair research: A lot of research centers don’t allow or even penalize researchers who leave the research center, leading to a lot of researchers spending endless hours in front of their computers. Often researchers are even scared to talk to other people (coming in the form of social anxiety disorder) and spend hours analyzing data that they gather from organizations rather than working on the field or interviewing people.

Fakli01_400or example, most researchers who tried to solved the Home Bias in Trade Puzzle (an economic puzzle assuming that for some unknown reason countries prefer trading within their countries than outside their countries) tried doing so by gathering data from the World Bank, the World Trade Organization or using other combinations using econometrics rather than actually going to the borders or asking company CEOs why they would rather trade within their country than outside their country. The same would go for any research.

My personal problems are everyone’s problem research: Perhaps the researcher got fired from his school or university because his boss thought his teaching was not fun and so the researcher will spend a lifelong quest trying to prove that fun classes are not effective. Or perhaps the researcher was told rather bluntly and coldly at a conference that Israel has one of the best human rights records in the world, and the researcher will spend the rest of his life checking every footnote and endnote that proves that Israel has at some point violated some kind of human right. The researcher will be contradicted at a conference, leading to more research, and the vicious cycle goes on.

I do things better than anyone else research: These researchers will videotape their classrooms, invent new research methods or go about doing research a certain way and try to go from conference to conference proving that everyone else is getting research or teaching wrong and that they are the ones getting it right.

I will try to get everyone to buy my or my friend’s research: The researchers work for a company or an individual, or themselves, and conduct experiments in ways that show that the product they are trying to sell works perfectly and that people should buy the product. For example that online education has very positive benefits for learning, that such and such food has very positive benefits for health and that such toxic diets will make you lose a ton of weight.

I will just repeat what some famous researcher said research: These researchers may have read a book that they really liked or a theory that they agree with, and will paraphrase the original researcher, sometimes giving credit to the original researcher, most times hoping that the audience will not be aware or have heard of the famous author’s theory.

I hate those people and I’ll show that they’re bad people research: These researchers try to prove that a certain country, product or person is not worth hanging out with or mistreats people, probably because they have been mistreated by those people.

I love those people and I’ll show that they’re good people research: Sometimes researchers want to make the point that they’re good people by talking about other people they believe are good people. Sometimes they’ll research a historian they share ideas or visions with, or products they think are a reflection of themselves.

These two people can’t get along and I’ll show it research: Sometimes researchers believe that when they can’t get along with someone, it probably means that their group or country can’t get along with the other group or country.

The point is, in the age of the internet and facebook the point of research has become the signature and not the research problem stated, and too many researchers see their research as an extension of their facebook profile.

What research is supposed to be (at least in my humble opinion) is the statement and study or problems, mysteries, unanswered questions or studies that can elucidate and take a problem further.

For example (and for vanity purposes) I will talk about some of my research (some of my other research also conforms the stereotypes above). In 2006 North Korea did its first nuclear test and refused to return to the negotiation table at the 6 party talks (talks with South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia, China and North Korea for peace and security in Northeast Asia). At my graduate school (back when graduate students did not care about facebook and thought about some of the problems surrounding us) we decided to have a mock 6 party talks to see and predict how to talks would go. I was designated to represent North Korea. I had about one month to prepare, so I went to the library and took every book I could find about North Korea, surfed online for hours and printed out every document I could find about North Korea and even studied North Korean speeches so I could get an idea how they express their thoughts.

After a few days of studying I could see North Korea’s position a lot more clearly. I could see that there was a lot of fear and anxiety regarding the fact the Soviet Union (now Russia) and China broke every single promise and pact they had made over the last few decades, and that there was fear of fighting a war on two fronts (the Northern Russian-Chinese front and the South Korean front) that could end up being a war of attrition or annihilation. When Russia, China and South Korea bonded too much or went said scary things about North Korea, the North Koreans could not help but test a nuclear bomb to remind those partners that the walls have ears.

Other research I have done was to offer solutions to perceived problems, or to try to think about certain problems. Thinking about certain problems meant that I had to get my own personal problems out of the way of my research, which is a difficult exercise, and becomes even more difficult when you visit your facebook or linkedin profile ten times a day or when you mix research with your own personal problems.

I hope researchers can go back to forgetting about their problems and focusing about other problems at large, without bringing their opinions or problems to the surface.   


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