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Observation and intuition Observation and intuition
by Joseph Gatt
2020-07-25 08:16:57
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In the old days, when you wrote your Ph.D. dissertation, a lot of professors used to tell you (something alone the lines of) you can either observe a phenomenon or report it. Or you can use logical arguments to come to a conclusion that supports your intuition.

That is, one way to write a Ph.D. dissertation is to observe “nature in action” and to either analyze the phenomenon using quantitative data and formulas (basically statistics) or qualitative data and formulas (basically a narrative describing the phenomenon).

obs001_400A third form of research is known as “historical research” that is studying historical archives or interviewing the witnesses of historical events to come to conclusions. In historical research, because archives and witnesses can have trouble recalling facts (or tell blatant lies) the method used is usually “triangulation” or you need “three witnesses to tell the same story” or “three documents to tell the same story” for the story to be validated as “accurate.”

Another form of research is based on the construction of logical arguments that confirm an “intuition.” That could either be done through experimentation and observing “the experiment in action.” But it could also be analyzing speeches, documents or narratives, piecing them together, and bringing some form of truth to light that had been kept in the dark.

Unfortunately, today's researchers tend to be crushed by bureaucracy. And the bureaucrats (both administrators and leaders in the research world) don't sign authorizations or publish papers just like that.

Most research leaders, dissertation advisers and university or research institute administrators want research to have the following features:

-Research must be “difficult.”

Because I am so well versed in research methodology, I could write a Ph.D. dissertation in two or three weeks (maybe a month). And professors and dissertation advisers tend to think writing a dissertation in two weeks is ridiculous. If you don't sweat it, don't greet your adviser with “fear and trembling” and have an easy time doing research, it can't be right.

-Research must adhere to strict methodology

Quibbles about methods and methodology. Some professors like to believe that there is a “methodology Bible” or “methodology Quran” (those don't exist) while other professors like to tell you to “never do this” or “never do that.” A professor once told me “you should never use convenience sampling in a social study” and I was like “what chapter or verse of the Bible is that written in?” In sum, some professors, advisers and researchers like to make believe that there are “strict rules” when it comes to research methods.

-Research must be precise

Here's how research goes wrong. My adviser (who kept searching for new ways to get me to bribe him, and yet I never gave him anything, not even a piece of gum) at one point kept being strict about the precision of details in my research.

Then I wrote everything with 100% precision and accuracy, but that made for one hell of a boring dissertation to read. Now my adviser was telling me I was being too precise, and that I should “summarize” all the details I had jotted down.

-Research must be “reader friendly”

I think this bit here is important. A lot of the world's research is not reader-friendly, and now with COVID-19, where a lot of immunology and virology and bacteriology and epidemiology research is necessary, too many papers in those fields are hard, perhaps impossible to read.

Here's an anecdote. An organization I used to work with asked for papers for its journal. I wrote a 10 page paper, fun to read, easy to read. The paper got rejected because the organization claimed it was “not academic enough.” I told the journal editor that “the organization members, all 760 of them, are English teachers, and most don't have an MA, much less a Ph.D. and that's the audience I had in mind.”

So indeed, many journal editors will want “academic” language over simple language, and in COVID-19 times, you want papers to be accurate and to enlighten you, but you also want the papers to use simple language, the kind of language a college graduate could be familiar with.

-Research must be “novel”

A lot of journals reject papers because “the topic has been dealt with.” Terrible mistake. For example, there are so many books and papers about automation and technology replacing human labor. Yet no two papers make the exact same claims, and all books and papers cover some angles that others don't.

-Research must get the “seal of approval.”

Here's something I have a lot of trouble with. A lot of people in academia (and in politics, in diplomacy, in business) think that for a “paper” to be considered as such, it needs to pass the “peer-review.”

But the “peer-review” are hungry people just like you and me who wouldn't mind passing your paper in exchange for a bottle of rum. This “peer-review” and “blind peer-review” thing has caused so much delay, so much frustration, and so much confusion (they validate “very bad” papers and reject “very good” ones).

-Research is “just a token.”

Now kids go to Fun Time Pizza Circus and play all those games, collect all those yellow (or green) tickets and trade the tickets for candy or toys. The fancier toys need a ton of tickets, so some kids are going to save tickets so they can get a thousand tickets to get that foosball table or whatever.

Academia, research, is a bit more serious than that I reckon, but the truth is, it works exactly like Fun Time Pizza Circus. Professors play this random game called “publishing” and the more papers they publish the more likely they are to get promotions, better pay, and leadership positions.

Unfortunately, just like at Fun Time Pizza Circus, no one cares how many tickets you have, and winning tickets by playing games is a lonely endeavor, where each is focused on getting as many tickets as they can.

This means professors rarely get together to discuss research, perhaps merge their research areas, perhaps find common ground in their research.

Personally, I'd rather enjoy coffee with my colleagues than boss them around. But a lot of people (a vast majority I would say) don't have my mentality. They would rather boss their colleagues around than have a cup of coffee with them.

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