Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Research hits and misses

Come prepared to nominate the author of that paper that has shaped your thinking and helped to focus your research.  Or - for the more negatively inclined - come and name the author who everyone cites and you cannot understand why.”

That was the topic for November’s discussion group.  Those who suggested authors tended to nominate positive influences, though a few did identify some people whose work was a source of frustration.

Generally, the authors considered helpful were thought to be so because they clearly described approaches or techniques which were helpful to those recommending them.  Wasim, for example, referred to the research of Gunther Eisenbach, whose content analysis of Tweets during the 2009 swine flu outbreak has shaped his own research.  Similarly, Marc’s work has relied on the research of Richard Suinn, who, in 1972, developed the first maths anxiety questionnaire.  

Other people recommended authors who helped them to see things in a new light.  James Wallace referred to the work of Stephen Roughley, which gives an insight into how chemists actually do their research.  Not surprisingly, rather than beginning their explorations from scratch every time, they keep referring to a few familiar reactions which act as a starting point, and work from there.  Roughley describes these reactions as the researchers’ toolboxes and argues that there is generally little incentive to expend the time and effort required to set off in wholly unfamiliar directions.  Such behaviour is familiar to information scientists from work on information foraging.  Paula dicussed the writings of Lev Manovich, who, in his writings on new media theory, argues that the Internet is killing culture by decontextualizing ideas.

Authors whose work is a source of frustration included the ubiquitous, the presumptive and the lucky.  Authors who had the ability to turn anything, however trivial, into a publication, were criticised.  James mentioned one author for example, who latches onto whatever is current in organic chemistry and manages to recycles core experiments in numerous publications, without actually saying much new.

Other authors who caused annoyance did so by reducing complex concepts to simple measurements and glossing over any assumptions that were made in the process.

Lucky authors were those whose work was poor, but who were first in their field and therefore were widely cited.

Chew, C., & Eysenbach, G. (2010). Pandemics in the age of Twitter: content analysis of Tweets during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. PloS One, 5(11), e14118.

Jordan, A. M., & Roughley, S. D. (2009). Drug discovery chemistry: a primer for the non-specialist. Drug Discovery Today, 14(15), 731-744.

Roughley, S. D., & Jordan, A. M. (2011). The medicinal chemist's toolbox: an analysis of reactions used in the pursuit of drug candidates. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, 54(10), 3451-79.

Richardson, F. C., & Suinn, R. M. (1972). The Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale: Psychometric data. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 19(6), 551-554.