- Academic Research and Writing Tips / Tutorial

Perfect Academic Research?

For decades, students and scientists have been doing research on topics ranging from astronomy to zippers. The purpose of research varies from demonstrating one's ability to synthesize knowledge from a variety of sources, to explaining a theory to a professional community. But is there any perfect research? Or, as Gilbert stated "there is no hope of doing perfect research"? Research is, according to Merriam-Webster, the "inquiry or examination; especially : investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws" ("Gove"). In other words, research is a process. A process can't be perfect, because by definition it is not complete. As soon as new information is presented to the learning community, the research that has been presented is already obsolete. Research aspires to perfection, but can never quite attain it.

Perfect Academic Research

While most researchers make every attempt to achieve perfection, there are some notable examples of flawed research. One such study, called the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male," conducted by the United Stated Public Health Service, commenced in 1932. The Institute studied 600 black men--399 with syphilis, 201 without--to determine how syphilis progressed over time. These men agreed to be examined and treated; however, there is no evidence to ascertain wither or not they were ever informed of the true purpose of the study. In fact, even when antibiotics became widely available in 1947, these men were still not treated. It wasn't until 1972 when an advisory panel concluded that the Tuskegee study was "ethically unjustified" ("Tuskegee") that the study was discontinued. Clearly this research was unethical and it is unsurprising that a $10 million dollar settlement resulted ("Tuskegee Staff").

Another example of research that fell far short of perfection was the research of Eric Poehlman, a tenured faculty member of the University of Vermont, in the 1990's and early 2000's. In 2006, Poehlman admitted to "fabricating more than a decade's worth of scientific data on obesity, menopause and aging" ("Moore"). Poehlman's fraudulent research resulted in years of time-consuming and costly investigation and ultimately the implementation of more stringent methods to detect fraud.

Ethics violations and fraud are not the only barriers to good research. The use of solid academic literature is integral to academic success. "Gray literature," literature that has not been evaluated by peer review, or "vanity publishing, " or self-published materials that may or not be scholarly, can result in a slipshod base from which to synthesize information ("Tillman").

Lastly, research that is poorly written or poorly conducted can be invalid or unreliable. Standard research formats and proper citations ensure that a colleague can read and check the sources for his or her own use. They also ensure that a former freelance writer is given credit for his or her own work.

In summary, while research cannot ever achieve perfection, this does not mean that the researcher should no longer try to be perfect. Although there are many notable cases were ethics violations, fraud, improper citation, and use of questionable literature resulted in less than perfect research, there are many examples in science and the humanities in which research has clearly benefited humanity. So while we cannot hope for perfection, we still need to strive to obtain it.

Works Cited

Gove, Philip Babcock. "Research." Def. 2. Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged: A Merriam-Webster. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam. Print.

Moore, Nicholas, Juillet Yves, and Pierr-Henri Bertoye. "Integrity of Scientific Data: Transparency of Clinical Trial Data." Therapie 62.Mai-Jun: 211-16. US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health.

Tillman, Hope N. "Evaluating Quality on the Net." Hope's Happy Home Page. N.p.

The Tuskegee Study Staff. "The Tuskegee Timeline." (2011): 1-3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. United States Government.