A reluctant father's journey through parenthood
Hello & Merry Christmas,I've been listening to your podcast ever since I returned to work after maternity leave--I like being inspired to think about my more important job as a parent while I'm doing my less important job, albeit the one I'm paid to do. But it's my line of work that has prompted me to write: I'm a researcher (in dreaded academia). I'm glad that you include scientific findings in your news reports. Most research is done with public funding and therefore the results really belong to the world at large, but they are very rarely reported to general audiences. I think you do a nice job. Thank you. (Here comes the inevitable “however.”) However in your last program you made a comment about academics trying to tell parents how to raise their children. It’s true that all work should be regarded with a healthy amount of skepticism and I'm sure there are a few folks with pointed agendas, but for the most part I’d have to say that most researchers do not undertake their work with the goal of telling others how to live their lives. Not to wear rose-colored glasses here, but most researchers have chosen to work in their field because they want to contribute to the understanding of life’s more complex issues—that’s enough for some & others want to see improvement in the world around them. Designing a study to answer a complicated question, collecting the data, analyzing results & publishing are all difficult things and most of us are happy when things have gone that far. Drawing conclusions from our work is an important step too otherwise time, effort & money have been wasted, but understand that the journals that publish scientific papers (and also the agencies that fund scientific work) push researchers to make the most of even the smallest finding. So the authors of a paper are somewhat pressured to draw over reaching conclusions from their work. Very often it is these statements that are picked up by the media (and often further over blown). Therefore, when evaluating a study it’s best to focus on 1) how well the methods were designed to answer the particular question at hand and 2) what the actual findings are. Together these things tell you how much weight to give the to the study and allow you to make your own conclusions about the results.This seems like a long-winded rant here, but I felt compelled to write. These days funding is very limited, especially federal funding, especially for the less-than-hot topics. While there are many things that influence this, public opinion definitely makes an impact on which areas of research receive funding. Scientists and researchers cannot afford to be viewed as lofty, irrelevant occupiers of white towers. I know that we need to try harder to relate our work to the public. It will also be helpful if those members of the public, like you, who report on findings do so in a manner that reflects the merits of the work.On a lighter note, I always fail the tune test—good thing my babies are only 7 months old, gives me time to become TV savvy (hopefully by spending less time in the lab!).Thanks for your podcast—informative & entertaining.
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