neededalj (neededalj) wrote,

Recognizing and Responding to Legitimate and Illegitimate Researchers

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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