Harry's Gang: Do some research on what is proper research
November 12, 2021
One of the rallying cries in the war of misinformation we have seen in the last few years is the phrase “Do your own research.” There’s nothing more frightening than some misinformed person, swayed by propaganda pushed on them by people with a hidden agenda, getting bolder in their misconceptions because they have justified their erroneous views by “doing their own research.”
I studied the sciences in college before going to law school and I’ve worked in the news reporting fields over the years. Each field required me to do my own research and taught me the right and wrong ways to do it.
While reporting the news, we don’t simply quote a news source opinion and then print it. No, we have to confirm those statements by reputable, reliable sources. For example, our paper learned of some questionable activity by the former Ford dealership in town. We didn’t just print the rumors. Jana, the editor and boss around here, carefully examined court documents, interviewed those involved, including law enforcement, and ran her story by the newspaper’s lawyer before printing it. That’s research.
Reading the comments on a Facebook page is not research.
A couple of years ago, I had a contentious legal dispute between two neighbors. The instigator had hired a lawyer with very little experience — a very nice person but she had no business pursuing this claim. I made a motion to the judge to have the case dismissed, but the opposing lawyer cited a case that supported her client’s view and would have destroyed mine. The problem was, the case she cited was a criminal case while ours was a property case. In other words, the citation did not apply to our case. It’s like saying you are breaking the law while hunting because your bullets travel faster than 65 mph. “The law says that travelling faster than 65 is a misdemeanor.” See how ridiculous that sounds? I am sure she had simply searched for the phrase “property owners have a duty” and found a precedent that said so.
In the old days, science was science, engineering was engineering, medicine was medicine, and politics were politics. Somehow, people have tried to convince us that politics is science, engineering and medicine, while scientists, engineers, and doctors are frauds. That’s dangerous to our society, and it’s being done by people who are pushing misinformation for their own gain, usually for money and power.
Last week, I saw a news story about wearing masks in schools. The story featured two mothers. One said, “I know my kids don’t like wearing the masks, but I trust the doctors and science that says they are helpful.” The other said, “I did my own research, and masks are useless and actually dangerous for kids.”
I’d like to know what qualifications the mother had to conduct her “own research.” Did she set up a blind study, gather a representative sample, and apply statistical analysis to the results? I don’t know. She never cited her sources. Which, by the way, actual researchers do. Or did she simply run a quick Google search and read the first few articles ranked at the top of the search results? That’s not research. That’s browsing.
Real research starts from a neutral point of view. If you already have a stake in the outcome of the research, you need to make sure your justification has carefully examined the opposing point of view.
Back to that old case, I wanted to show the court that my client had no duty to the neighbor. But my research also had to cover reasons why my client might have a duty to her neighbor, otherwise I might make the same mistake my opposing attorney made. If you are researching if masks are effective for children in schools to slow the spread of the coronavirus, you must review all the reasons the opposition says they are ineffective, and then find information that directly addresses those issues. Then you might draw a conclusion.
On masks, one of the issues I keep hearing is that the virus is so small that it passes right through. People who make that erroneous statement haven’t done any real research. If they had, they would know that while it’s true that the virus is smaller than the filters on masks, the virus never exits a person’s body by itself. It is always attached to water vapor. So, the mask traps water vapor from your breath, which in turn helps prevent the virus from spreading. Masks work. No one with any serious credentials says they don’t work, except politicians.
Oh, and mothers. Were you taught to cover your mouth when you cough? Turns out your mother was wrong. The politicians said so.