Informal reflections from the Plymouth end.

The link to Question 5 follows this ramble…Just keep going down the page.

Well, the project is over half way through now and there will only be a few questions set after my present ramble about whether the laws of physics are the hard centre chocolates and the laws of biology the strawberry cups (yes well, it was late and Bernie was putting me under pressure!), so it seems a good time to reflect on my initial thoughts about the project so far.

I have kept a diary on the project, but like all my attempts to keep diaries it fell rather by the wayside as the teaching term really got going. One thing that I did record very early on however, were my concerns over whether the project would work at all. I guess that might have been based on a natural pessimism, but undergraduates are busy and I was more concerned that without the compulsion of assessment the time constraints would be too great. To my relief, that doesn’t seem to be the case, as the postings have been pretty regular and very interesting to read. I am aware that a few people seem not to have taken part and I’ll be intrigued as to any problems people have faced.

In terms of the responses, they have been exclusively written, which is a surprise, as I had initially expected the pairings to record them to video. That expectation however may be predicated upon my own dreadful two finger typing.  I’d much rather speak, than thump away on a keyboard.

I wonder how many have used the video call option to discuss the question? Certainly I found found Skype a bit of a pain when talking to Bernie. Not only did he keep turning into what looked like a gas cloud, but he sounded if he was underwater – I don’t think he was either. Only when we switched to iChat did things improve in terms of picture quality and sound. Interestingly, for longer, more involved conversations we seem to have relied on email.

The blog has made interesting reading over the term, but has seemed rather like a notice board, used only for questions and answers. I thought that it would be rather more interactive with some discussions taking place between groups and it’s a pity that this hasn’t taken place really. I’m not sure that we have particularly encouraged it, but the question responses have been left unchallenged. I had decided early on not to post responses, (although Bernie has done a few) to avoid dominating the site). Any comments relating to that would be welcomed. I must admit I have avoided Facebook page. Anything I add onto it appears on my profile page which means my three Facebook friends (my wife, Bernie and someone else called Roger Cutting) can see it. Somehow, I feel privacy is important – not sure why. I prefer the blog and YouTube (although available to all, at least you’re not too easy to find on the latter).

I quite like the questions we’ve set, although I think we’ve probably put the UK students at a disadvantage in that they haven’t really dealt with the nature of science as part of their degree (not sure if the Canadians have). In the UK is an area that is traditionally mentioned (almost in passing) at the very end of a degree programme. I don’t think we really do much more than ‘encourage’ students to consider the issues of philosophy, epistemology and ontology in relation to science practice. The ethos here seems to be ‘just get on with it’! As a result Bernie’s next question on post-modernism (presumably delivered while painted green with a tea pot on his head) will be a real challenge to the UK students. We set out to deliberately pair groups of students who were not doing the same course, but faced the same issues of needing both an understanding of science and social science.  I’m not sure if that’s come across.

In terms of the international dimension to the project, the responses to the questions to date have been very much in a western liberal tradition; no pair as yet has come back really strongly on a topic (hence asking you to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at the beginning of replies!), which again was something of a surprise. The topics and the questions have tried to stir things up a bit in terms of a debate but the study pairs have seemingly remained firmly in the middle ground.

Making the videos has been an interesting experience. I learnt that if I can pronounce my name correctly and get past the stuff about UoP and UBC I can then talk quite normally (that’s why I have to say all that blurb at the beginning – I need a run up.) Annoyingly, of course Bernie looks about 20 years younger than me – despite us being at university together. His videos are far more professional than mine, so I’m assuming he has a team around him including make up and styling people. I have to wear a hat to avoid bald glare. Here we see the difference in HE funding.  Of course his first was heavily edited (mine aren’t hence the mistakes – we came out of the Rift Valley 135 years ago?!) and on pointing out that true professionals do it in one take, his next effort was very impressive, until I noticed his nervous glances towards what was obviously a carefully positioned script. Mind you, I think it will be sometime before either of us gets a TV contract. Blast – another escape plan bites the dust.

Roger Cutting. Plymouth 2009

2 thoughts on “Informal reflections from the Plymouth end.

  1. Hello all…sorry for the late reply. First off I should mention that I could not get the video to play so I am basing this response on the text alone.

    So errors are an accepted fact of life with errors’ in research being no different. So I (Allen) am going to take an extreme position and say YES, quantification and error reduction in humanistic health research is a complete waste of time! Any idea that something as complex and unpredictable as a human-being could be accurately measured is nonsense. We are all too full of far too many variables to make such an effort futile. Even if we exclude the infinite interactions on a biological level we all experience and which we (the scientific community) really know little about (check any recent drug guide for proof of this), how on earth could we ever control for what goes on in the mind of each of us…each filled with various interpretations of past and future events as well as motivation and belief. Too many confounding variables!

    I suppose you might argue that in research “we must at least try” to quantify and reduce error when possible. I might argur that by doing so researchers are simply fooling themselves and wrapping themselves in a false sense of security. And how do we account for an individual researchers own inherent interests? Does not each researcher have a biased interest in their own research that can never be overcome?

    Down with qualitative research! Well, that may be going a bit far. Is it of little value? Not likely. But I think it is important for all of us to realize it has greater limitations than more objective research of course. Is it worth all the effort to reduce error? Hmmm, not too clear. Perhaps in all our efforts to reduce the obvious errors we introduce others. After all, how can you establish a set of “rules” governing humanistic research, whose very nature is not defined by “rules”.

  2. Question 5
    Apologies to Allen for the long delay in adding my part and posting this response,
    Should science be “culturally sensitive”? What a silly question! Of course not! Well, at least that what we first thought. We agree that science is a human endeavor and we humans are raised and live in various cultures, cultures involved in scientific research. We would argue that our culture determines the kinds of research we partake in, the kinds of research that gets funded and the kinds of research that receive media attention. For example, in Canada (North America really) and the UK, the types of research that seem to get the most money and media attention involve scientific questions, specifically medical issues and environmental issues lately. We don’t always agree that science should be culturally sensitive but scientist need funding and they would have difficulty finding funding for something which isn’t culturally sensitive.

    Is this the way it “should ” be? Hmmm, well who sets the rules? Society? And by extension then each culture? Or each culture within a society? Or just the majority culture? Well practically that is the way it is. We think scientific research does reflect the interests and values of the dominant culture in a particular society. Should it be this way? We don’t think so and if every scientist was culturally sensitive science would not have progressed very far. Darwin was not culturally sensitive in his science but was aware of sensitivities and delayed publishing his work because of them. The nature of scientific research will always mean someone is offended by it, but because people are prepared to research means we can move forward. Scientific theories will always be controversial and will always be questioned however this is what allows us to progress or develop a new idea.

Comments are closed.