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Recognizing and Responding to Legitimate and Illegitimate Researchers
neededalj
On the heels of my two posts on neuroscience, I'm going to try one that's straight-up about research.

Over the course of SurveyFail, I have seen two different attitudes towards researchers that bother me. I am *not* singling anyone out individually over this; I do not think anyone in fandom deserves blame for any of the shit that went down.



The first problematic attitude is reactionary against researchers; assuming that any researchers will be outsiders who should be driven off, assuming that any *neuroscience* researchers will always be outsiders who should be driven off (neuroscience isn't ready to interact with fandom yet, but one day it will be). My first title for my 'Phrenologists' post was "In Defense of Cognitive Neuroscience" because the field is legitimate and one day the researchers who come knocking at fandom's door will be too. (Not anytime soon, but that's another story).

The second problematic attitude is assuming that someone with a PhD knows that they're doing. Every year hundreds of PhDs are given out to people who are complete boneheads, and thousands more to people who are great in their own narrow fields of specialty but lack contextual ability anywhere else. I may post a meta-essay expanding on this later, but for the record I do not believe that Ogi Ogas had bad intentions towards fandom. I believe he suffers from a SEVERE case of oblivion towards anything that isn't his narrow subspecialty, and unfortunately this includes 'any and all social interactions with other human beings'

So that being said, here are some steps to recognize whether or not research is legitimate that may not be obvious to someone who hasn't spent substantial time in academia as something other than an undergraduate.

1. CVs. A good researcher will have their CV public and accessible, or provide it without protest. A CV or cirriculum vitae is an academic resume. It differs from resumes in other fields by being an exhaustive record of an academic's career including publishing history; I have seen professors mid-career whose CVs went on for pages and pages. Here is a semi-random example from the same department at BU where Ogi Ogas got his PhD; in fact, this was one of the researchers he cited in the technobabble on his now-mythic 'shemale' post. You will notice that THIS professor's CV is prominently located on his webpage, public, and LONG. Unlike Ogi's.

...added at jonquil's suggestion, you can see that Stephen Grossberg, the researcher I cite here, is a senior professor with much experience. Someone with a shorter CV is likely to be a post-doc or a graduate student. Their status is also information they should part with without qualm, and if they are a post-doc or a student of any type they will have an adviser whose name you can ask for and whose CV you should be able to find. Google scholar is also a great way to find out quickly if someone has a respected publishing history.

2. Affiliation. A good researcher will probably be (truly) affiliated with a research university or college. I don't know if Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam *lied*, explicitly, but they certainly misrepresented the level of their connection to Boston University as was quickly revealed by a call to the Uni itself. A good researcher will provide their affiliation up front, including their department. A quick call to the relevant department will easily verify if they are telling the truth.

3. If you are being asked for your participation in research, you have the right to informed consent and clear information about measures that will be taken to protect anonymity and confidentiality. IRBs and their purpose have been exhaustedly debated elsewhere, but suffice it to say if a researcher does not provide *up front*, before you would even think to ask, information about consent and privacy protection at MINIMUM they do not know what they are doing.

4. $$$$$$. Research takes money and time (which costs money). Most research at public universities is funded at least in part by public money. It is a completely fair question to ask where the funding for the research is coming from, and if the researchers have a personal financial stake in the project. Most grants are public information (and researchers, in applying for money, are required to set out how they are going to spend every single penny). Anyone who gets cagey about funding is probably not to be trusted.

Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam would have failed on all four of these points, but 2) and 4) would have been the easiest to spot from a lay perspective. Their CVs clearly showed that they didn't have experience working with human subjects in any way, shape, or form, but it would take knowledge of neuroscience and computer science terminology to spot that right off the bat. 3) became obvious once the survey was already posted.



I do hope that this experience has not soured fen on research in general; the vast majority of researchers are not Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam.

ETA: There's a lot of good detail in the comments about how these factors apply slightly differently in different fields and different situations, so I strongly recommend that anyone reading this post read all the way through the comments as well.


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As usual, educational. Thank you.

One thing you might add:
"You will notice that THIS professor's CV is prominently located on his webpage, public, and LONG."

And if you look at his vita, he's the *first author* on a lot of papers. The politics of authorship are way complicated, but it's at least an indication of importance.

Finally, I would add that Google Scholar is your friend: http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=s.+grossberg&hl=en&btnG=Search

(agh. Hit post too soon.) The first paper listed is cited by *1731* other papers. That's a paper with major, major impact in its field. By contrast, when I looked up Sai Gaddam, I could only find one paper that's in prepress; Ogas's best result, for which he is third author, is 42 cites.

Edited at 2009-09-03 05:57 pm (UTC)

That's a good point. I added a paragraph to point 1) about people's statuses and job titles.

Thank you SO MUCH for this post. I'm a neuroscientist and MD. I'm also a member of fandom, under a different name - I keep my fandom and professional ID's strictly separate; this is an LJ created solely for commenting on neuro-related matters - and it's been heartbreaking to see this thing unfold. Not just for all the reasons relating to the survey questions etc., but because of the inevitable and completely understandable mistrust of "science" and "research" that will get reinforced.

So kudos to you for this and for your previous posts. It's great to have someone lay out so clearly the problems with neurocognitive research, fMRI etc. We're nowhere *near* being able to model something as complex as human emotion or sexual/erotic behavior, even if this wasn't being done over the internet in such an uncontrolled and unethical fashion.

Thank you! I debated for a while before deciding to step up but I wanted it to be clear that Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam weren't just ignorant about the things fandom expected them to be ignorant about (fannish conventions, gender theory) but were Bad Scientists in the discipline they were attempt to claim as their own, too.

I'm not sure if this is entirely fair, but I feel like it would be reasonable to ask for some sort of evidence of a research proposal/grant proposal. Bonus points for it being posted somewhere publicly on a university/government-associated website. At the very least, a project title and dollar amount should be willingly disclosed.

ps. thanks for making this post so I didn't have to!

Thanks for this, as a fellow (ex-)academic. I personally don't think lots of publications == good stuff (just think of James Watson being spectacularly racist), but that's a minor detail.

I agree completely that James Watson is a racist jerk. I'm speaking more to people being what they represent themselves as. Which is to say, if James Watson walks into a room and says "I am a respected biologist who has a long career doing biological research" he is telling the truth, and his CV reflects that. Length of CV won't tell you about the *quality* of their work but it will tell you if they have a longstanding academic career and an investment in their professional reputation among their claimed peers.

At this point I find it very likely that Ogi never intended or intends to pursue an academic career, but rather thought he could have a pop-science writing career and neatly escape pesky things like peer review.

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One of my favorite Feynman stories is that a colleague asked him to explain his current topic of research. He said, "At the level I'd teach a graduate student who wasn't one of mine?" The other professor agreed that would be exactly right. Feynman came back a day or two later and said "I can't do it, which means I don't understand it as well as I thought."

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Thank you for this post; I saw your first problematic attitude among the early complaints, and was disappointed, but then I was myself trapped by your second one and needed the reminder. (They're qualified phds doing research with a respected university! Surely we can give them benefit of the doubt! ...but then it turned out that they were lying about both the "qualified" and the "affiliated with BU" parts, and I realized I let myself be taken in.)

Your four points are very helpful, too. Although I do want to point out that RE: #2, there are some fields in which "independent researcher", not working through any university, is a quite legitimate affiliation, and I know specifically that there are several people doing perfectly good academic work on fandom who are working as independent researchers.

But those people should admit up front that they're not affiliated with an institution, and should still have publications and co-authors you can judge by, and use proper ethical guidelines and methodology. And "follow the money" is even more important for independents.

You're right; I don't have very much experience with my independents but they aren't bad by default. I have added an ETA on the post directing people to read through the comments for points people are raising about various fields.

Here from linkspam, just wanted to point out that Google Scholar is more comprehensive in some fields than others.

Duly noted; I should have remembered that myself. I used it all the time for cognitive neuroscience references because most of that literature is so recent that google scholar can almost always turn up what you're looking for, but that changes as you move out towards the social sciences and the humanities. I have added an ETA on the original post noting that there are many useful additional points in the comments.

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Thanks for the input; I have virtually no experience in the humanities, so additional commentary is definitely appreciated! I have added an ETA directing people to look through the comments for more useful info.

Hey, thank you for this post! This is liek, a huge chunk of what I was talking about with fandom deserving an FAQ somewhere of "what research is/can be/should be" and "things to ask researchers when they come knocking at the door."

And since I am nowhere able to contribute substantially to such a post at this time, thanks for hosting the discussion!

If it seems helpful, whenever it is I get done with the stuff that's gonna be eating me alive the rest of this month, I will volunteer to help roll it up/organize it/fill in some more details. Or not, as you prefer!

Thanks! I may indeed attempt a more substantive version at some point in the future...I definitely wrote it from a combined perspective of my own experience and the blazing red flags in OgiSai's conduct and the following discussion has reminded me of how very different things can be elsewhere (have I mentioned that I am Not A Humanities Person? *g*)

But that's what fandom is for! Collectively, fandom knows all! Woe betide any 'researchers' who do not realize this ahead of time...

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