Thursday, May 12, 2022


 "Do the research." "I do my own research on these things." In the words of Inigo Montoya 

This was once mostly popular among the anti-vaxxers, but now has spread to some covid skeptics. 

Very few of us do actual research in the formal sense, particularly on medical topics. However, we do use the word in another sense, of reading up on something to learn about it, as one used to do for college papers. That does begin to show the weakness, because while research should mean "finding and reporting on the information, let the chips fall where they may," even in college it could mean "I have this belief and I am going to find the information that supports it." Yeah, Supposed to is not is

Is it worse now?  I wasn't correcting college papers fifty years ago, I was writing them.  I think I still believed one was supposed to find the correct information and demonstrate that to the professor.  Not that you couldn't do something more speculative and controversial, but if you attempted to show that Japan was not actually a free country, or that Beethoven actually sucked as a composer, you took on the task of an uphill battle.  The standards were going to be higher for surprising claims. 

Whether it's worse or not, it is definitely in an unacceptable place for some people now, who say they have done their own research when all they have done is read (or just listen to, or just hear about) a source you haven't, that they choose to believe for unclear reasons.  My greatest familiarity with this was with alternative medicine advocates in mental health, touting chelation therapy, various herbals, and a host of devices or mental exercises that purport to reprogram or align your brain waves or thought patterns. I recommend Quackwatch, BTW, even though they don't seem to be updating anymore.

When you've seen fifty of these and dutifully looked up the supporting evidence that your patient directs you to and found it to be crap - not only crap, but pretty the same crap as the others - you eventually just turn it all off. Oh, does that mean that I'm the one who's not openminded? No, the simpler explanation is that others are credulous, believing that absolutely anything other than what the experts recommend must be the real treatment, the one being hidden from us by said experts because somehow it would just blow up their little game if the truth got out. So with covid, it was the same song different verse. "But he's the father of mRNA technology! And he says..." No, Malone isn't. He developed a platform. Very nice.  Not the same thing.  He has a remarkable gift for self-promotion.

It's amazingly simple.  When you hear that sort of claim and go to a website - including mine: coming here isn't research either - that makes one of those "the experts are all wrong" arguments, you don't seek to verify that by going to the other sites which that one recommends or the counter-experts are all pointing to. You go immediately to a site that purports to debunk them. It is amazing how quickly you can get right to the heart of it. "None of the so-called experts is talking about this problem!" But you go to that other site and there they are, talking about that problem. I saw one this morning that resurrected that claim from last fall about England that this is a disease of the vaccinated, because vaccinated people were getting the disease at levels they thought weren't consistent with real protection.  That one has hung on remarkably well.  The article and the graph - it had a real graph and everything - left out some fairly obvious information. Ask yourself who tends to get vaccinated.  Oh yeah, old people and folks with worrisome risk factors. And now that you know that, how does it not immediately occur to you that the rest of the data is going to be skewed in some way, and we must find out how much before we can proceed further? Without that the graph (and paragraphs) are meaningless.  Also, what is the vaccination rate for the population?

It's not research. I suppose you could stretch a point and say, well, it's bad research, but i don't think that helps us.


james said...

Actually, instead of looking for refutation sites, I have found that trying to trace back the sources they claim can be fruitful. Newspapers are terrible at accurately representing the research they report on, and partisans are worse.

My favorite--or unfavorite--A speaker at a collaboration meeting cited popular magazine reports stating that "research showed" that diversity improved the quality of research. That report pointed to another, which pointed to another, which pointed to another, which actually referenced the study. The study examined the citation rate of medical research papers as related to the mix of ethnicities determined from the last names of the contributors. The last name and first initial was all they had. The diversity was pretty much restricted to Asian (Chinese/Japanese/Vietnamese) and flavors of European.
The favorite types of diversity couldn't be distinguished at all, and the effect was small--but this was used as gospel to drive the favorite types of diversity.

james said...

"literature search" was what we called this kind of research. When the servers are down you hang out in the library and look through the journals. Well, with the ubiquity of cell phones, maybe these days they don't...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Excellent point

David Foster said...

How to prove that watching the 1984 movie 'Ghostbusters' can be fatal:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thanks. Just what I was referring to. Making it obvious with the likely ages for the movie choice was a good instructive tool.

Donna B. said...

"you eventually just turn it all off"

Yes. I have probably taken that too far. Honestly, if someone tells me to 'do the research' on subject ABC, I'm suspect of what they tell me on XYZ. Is it ironic that I then 'do the research' on XYZ without being told to?

Grim said...

I actually hadn't even thought about COVID in quite a while now, but yesterday I learned that a large part of our fire department is down with it -- or something like it. I don't know how good the tests are these days. We've had problems with them in the past.

JMSmith said...

I think you are taking the "done my own research" claim too literally. In current usage, it simply means that the speaker holds some unconventional, unpopular, dissenting [weird, insane, crackpot] views and opinions. People who have peculiar views and opinions came by these views and opinions in some way or other, and that way is what they call "my own research." When I am asked to explain my peculiar views and opinions, I say much the same thing, albeit ironically, by saying "I guess I just read the wrong books." We can hardly blame people living in a scientistic society for adopting the highfalutin terms of science.

Our entire political system rests on a belief that, with sufficient education, the common man is capable of "doing his own research." I'm not sure if anyone but the common man ever believed this, but there were until recently ways to keep the researches of most common men from wandering too far off the reservation. Cranks were free to be cranks, and to publish their ideas, but most people were unwilling to send $1.25 to some oddball selling his pamphlet in the classified adds at the back of a magazine. But the internet allows the common man to go "down the rabbit hole" for free, and to read a dozen cranks in half an hour.

What I have learned by "doing my own research" on the internet is that the world is not as simple as I believed (and was told) it was twenty years ago. Nor are experts as wise and altruistic as I once supposed. It is not an original observation, but the internet did to our established clerisy what moveable type did to the established clergy. The Reformation was very largely a matter of people "doing their own research" in the Bible and deciding the priest had been deceiving them.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

But usually not doing their own research in the Bible, but following some other crank who claimed he had done his. Perhaps a net gain in the long run in terms of knowledge, but the gains were incremental.