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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Research Department

My mom called with an idea. Her neighbors son was working down at the local university in the "Research Department". Why don't I apply and move closer to home?

The Research Department?

What Feynman was talking about in Cargo Cult Science, was research. He did not condemn all of psychology for flawed research methods. He spoke specifically to a problem in their experimental design. Not all people can spot experimental flaws, but it can be taught. For some this course would be easier than it is for others. Take for example, a recent Huffington Post article looking at the divorce rate for childless vs. couples with kids. It was mentioned that in 1950:
For couples without children, the divorce rate in 1948 was 15.3 per 1,000. Where one child was present, the estimate rate was 11.6 per 1,000. The figure thus continues to decrease, and in families with four or more children, it was 4.6. Altogether, the rate for couples with children was 8.8 per 1,000. In other words, the rate for childless couples was almost double the rate for families with children.

Over 2,000 comments turned up with people chiming in with their views on kids and marraige. One person however called attention to the notion that only 11 to 15 people per 1,000 were getting divorced. The divorce rate is currently around 50%.

The bias here got everyone talking about marriage and family. The "Research Department" guy picked up on a research issue.

Why don't they teach courses on how research is conducted. We can teach chemistry, biology psychology, and we assume that they understand where all of that information came from. Why don't we specifically get at the issue of research? In another HuffPo article a Gender Studies professor asked the question of whether or not men are what they used to be. She mentioned a study where men and women were asked questions about family and marriage. Once again, the comments section found people focusing on what makes a man a man. There were however those who brought up the fact that no such questionnaire was given to people in a previous era.

By all means, every University needs to establish a research department. Before a grad student begins conducting research for his/her professor, they need to do research without the bias they will encounter. Give students the tools they will need when facing a Bulfone-Paus or David Baltimore.

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