Research vs. Reinforced Opinion

Research is a learned skill that begins with being objective. Research is complex that involves processes. It requires understanding all facets of the topic and the information being collected. It is challenging because it requires identifying as many sources as possible from which to gather information.

Up front, let’s explode a few myths and explain what research is not. Research is not:
1. Googling words or phrases,
2. Scrolling Facebook feeds for posts that fit your opinion or thoughts,
3. Searching for videos on YouTube or other social media services/sites,
4. Ardently espousing an idea just because it fits your opinion.

In each case this is reinforcing an opinion or creating a confirmation bias. It is looking for statements that reinforce the opinion you hold to “make it true”.

If you are truly seeking to conduct research, there are critical steps that need to be taken. Each of those steps, however, require you to be just as objective as the content of the material you are evaluating. So let us take a few moments to actually understand what “research” involves.

Literature Review
First, there is the matter of compiling a “literature review”. This is a comprehensive overview of the previously published works on the topic. Depending on the topic, there may be an existing scholarly paper that contains this information. This may also be a section of a book on the topic, a research paper presented at an academic conference, or a text book on a broader theme or topic. Additionally, a literature review may also be included as part of an article printed in a scholarly journal. Regardless of the source from which this information may be drawn, it is imperative that you – the one conducting your own research – must make a concerted effort to find and understand the existing base of knowledge for the topic being researched.

An “abstract” is a summary of a journal article, a talk, clinical or laboratory research, or other document that has been identified as part of the volume of knowledge on the topic being researched. The abstract concentrates on the essential qualities and salient points that have been made in or identified from each item in the literature review. It is about identifying who has conducted the research, who has funded the research, and where the research has been conducted. This content becomes crucial as you conduct your research. It aids you in identifying what is fact versus what you are being told to believe, versus what has been bought, versus what others want you to believe.

Random Sampling
This follows through on the previous comment. As you conduct actual research, you need to evaluate the content of the knowledge that has already been amassed on the topic. This is not just “key word searches”. Nor is this just “finding numbers”. Random sampling is about drawing together the knowledge known on the topic to conduct independent statistical analysis of that knowledge. It is about identifying the consistency of the reported results across the research venues and the researchers who have been involved. It is also about evaluating just how the research has been bought and paid for over the years. It is also about determining just how much of the research is incremental versus being objective.

Source Review
Go back to each article and identify the “source” – the primary or lead researcher, the journal, book, or conference from which the material is drawn, and from where the funding came for the research.

Now actually review and critique the writing style used in the text. Look for logical fallacies among the paragraphs. Evaluate the words used for cognitive distortions that flow from emotional or pathological emphasis on personal opinions or intentional objectives based on the funding source. Critically review the statements made and search for confirmation of those claims within the research that is being presented.

Take the time to evaluate why this lead researcher, scientist, or working group of the same would be willing to publish these particular results. Evaluate the content vis a vis the other research on this part of the topic. Determine if this trail of references from your literature review leads to the same results or variegated information that still requires additional inquiry.

Now evaluate where the tests, the studies were conducted. Evaluate just how objective the Institutional Review Board (IRB) is among the professors, faculty, and researchers in that educational facility. When occurring in business facilities, consider the strength of the ethical review boards at those research organizations. Likewise, when content is presented at professional or academic conferences, evaluate just how the companies, donors, or organizations funding the event steer or direct the content that is presented.

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If you have not bothered to actually put forth this effort in understanding the topic you want to discuss, then you have not actually searched out information. Worse still is when we hold on to opinion just because it fits with what we have been told to believe by “names” from within academia, media, and politics. You are merely reinforcing an opinion you hold in your mind. In essence, you are reinforcing the fantasy you hold dear. All you are doing is searching for what supports your emotional desires and confirms the ideas in your head, pretending it is proof because the words, sights, and sounds “ping”.

In the 1960s, we were told to “Question Authority”. Throughout the 1980s and 90s education was supposed to be “objective”. In the 200s we were to be “skeptical”. But that skepticism became “a negative” when it called into question what was just to be “accepted”. Thus, we now find ourselves having to defend conducting actual research such as described above. Why? Because what is being presented is at odds with those who desire the control of people.

Indeed, we must return to applying our critical thinking skills, not critical race theory, to how we conduct our research. We must ensure we are conducting our best research to suss – figure out objectively – the Truth, the Facts, from the fiction, the myths, and outright BS in pseudoscience and politics. Misinformation is being used as a tool of war and to undermine our public health, and it is up to each of us to fight against it.

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