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Myth #6 -- Research can be usedto support whatever your beliefs are -- lots of programs are "researchbased"


Unfortunately, it is true that alot of people do selectively search and sample the research literature,citing only the research that seems to support their pre-conceived notions. Often research results are skewed or biased to appear to be consistentwith hypotheses proposed.  And unfortunately, there are many peoplewho are unwilling to reject a hypothesis or a theory even when researchevidence does not support that theory.  Adding to the problem of poorresearch is the problem that the public is largely uninformed about whatthe hallmarks of good research are.

Many articles seem to be "research"articles, but are not.  The article you are reading right now, forexample, might be cited as "research" by some, but in fact this is nota research article -- this is an article written by a researcher, and thatis an important distinction.  This article, and others that appearin journals like Phi Delta Kappan and The Reading Teacher are typicallycreated as informative journalistic documents.  These articles aremeant to be analogous to newspaper articles, but are often more like editorialsand commentaries.  They stimulate thought, and focus attention oninteresting issues, but they are not in any way "research" articles.

Real research requires replication. Real research requires peer review.  Real research is tested and attackedand scrutinized from all angles by multiple, unrelated researchers. There is rigor and objectivity associated with real research, and evenafter all of that, a "healthy skepticism" is still adopted by the researchcommunity.  Researchers know that one piece of research evidence isnothing to get excited about.  Several bits of evidence might getsome attention.  But it is only when there is substantial "convergentevidence" from multiple sources supporting a theory that the research communityis willing to embrace the theory.

It takes years to convince the researchcommunity that a theory has merit, but it takes no time at all to convincethe public.  If there were thousands of research articles showing,for example, that cold fusion is not possible given our current technologyand understanding of physics, and one single research team claiming thatthey have found the solution to cold fusion, what do you think would bethe lead on the news and the cover story of Time Magazine?  When thereis a preponderance of evidence supporting a theory, the research communityputs a great deal of faith in that theory, but when there is one claimthat refutes the preponderance of evidence, the public tends to pay inordinateattention to the exceptional claim and ignore the preponderance of evidencethat would refute that claim.  A wall of mundane consistency fadesto the background when one incongruent speck appears.

It is true that new "research based"fads and programs come and go, but that stems from a misuse of the term"research based."  All of us need to adopt a bit of healthy skepticism,and we need to demand that a substantial research base be provided as evidenceto support claims.  And we need to learn to pay more attention tothe research evidence and less attention to the messenger -- the credentialsof a researcher are important, but even researchers can editorialize andput forth unfounded opinions.  Just because a well-known researchersaid it, that doesn't make it so.

In short, we should always rememberthe researcher's credo: "Remarkable claims require remarkable evidence."


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Last Updated 8-7-03