Academic research task
Last week’s PACT task was a form of PRIMARY research i.e. research that you design and conduct yourself. This week I’d like you to think about SECONDARY research i.e. research carried out and published by others. The key question is how do you know you can ‘trust’that research to be reliable?
Academics have a particular perspective on the status of TRUTH
Academics tend to only accept as ‘fact’ information that has been investigated by more than one person or group of people. They have self-imposed rules about which information to value highly and which to ignore. They try to ignore opinion; they try to ignore information from sources that have a vested interest in ‘painting the facts’ in a certain way, for example, by providing partial information that ‘covers up’ the truth.
One of the VERY WORST types of ‘proof’, and one which academics avoid at all costs, is called anecdotal evidence that is, evidence that ‘plays on’ the human tendency to generalise truth from isolated incidents. For example, evaluate the following statement: “I knew a guy who always played beat ‘em ups on his Xbox and he ended up assaulting some kids at his school, this proves that computer games cause violence”
Another type of poor proof is equating the number of people who believe something with its status as truth. The popularity of an idea does not necessarily make it true.
The three main tools that help an academic to evaluate the status ofinformation are:
Research triangulation. This is where information is gathered from more than one source to determine whether those multiple sources are ‘agreeing’ on the information. BE CAREFUL – a Google search can suggest that there are multiple sources of information, but if you really ‘dig deep’you find that all of those sources originally got their information from a single source. (Try this experiment: Google search for ‘smallest petrol engine’. Now look at the results from: Esato Archive, Gleez and The Sun did you notice that they’re identical? Does this make the information more true?)
Peer review. This is the system academics use to verify that their community accepts the validity and reliability of their information. Basically, before publishing their findings (in a book or at a conference) academics submit them to a group of other,trusted, academics whose job it is to investigate and criticise the information and findings. If they confirm the results and find nothing wrong with the process used to carry out their investigation the results can be published.
Trusted sources. Finally academics value information from a ‘trusted source’ more highly than other sources of information. The most trusted sources are
Academic journals (e.g. NATURE http://nature.com is the most trusted source in natural science, The Lancet www.thelancet.com is the most trusted source in medicine, the ACM www.acm.org is one of the most trusted sources in Computer Science) Academic conference papers from peer-reviewed conferences. Specialist textbooks (which are themselves peer reviewed) Sources that academics treat with suspicion include: Wikipedia (a good starting place, but completely unverifiable regarding authorship), some journalism, blogs, information provided by political or pressure groups, opinion pieces, etc.
LESSON: Cutting and pasting unverified information, from untrusted sources on the back of a poorly conducted Google or Wikipedia search is probably the worst thing you can do if you hope to get high marks in a written assignment.
The difference between fact and opinion.
One of the key problems for academics is determining true information from opinion. Opinions are subjective but very often can be presented ‘as if’ they are ‘fact’ through a variety of techniques. These may include using persuasive language and argument or visual evidence such as photographs and graphs and tables. Another may include asking high status individuals to support the opinion or, in the worst case, using academics to support a position which the academic community has not yet fully agreed. (If you wish to explore this further examine ‘the global warming debate’ or ‘MMR vaccine linked with autism’)
In order to determine whether an academic might be acting outside the academic community’s remit you very often have to look for clues, such as; who is funding their research? Are they working for a political or commercial organisation that may have an interest in portraying facts in a certain light?
See for example Ben Goldacre’s excellent (and funny) book Bad Science [fourth estate, 2008].
LESSON: This means that your secondary research has to go further than just finding information, you have to determine the value of that information; who is providing it and why? Are they providing it within the context of triangulated, peer reviewed and trusted sources?
To be clear
For the next three years your written work will be marked by academics, not business people, journalists or family members. Academics look for certain things in a report that allows them to properly grade your academic capability, central amongst these will be your ability to do high quality secondary academic research and to take a considered view on the status of the evidence.
Conducting poor secondary research, and failing to evaluate the validity of your sources, WILL EFFECT YOUR MARKS. At level one (e.g. 106CR) I tend to subtract a few marks for reports which fail to use trusted, peer reviewed and verifiable sources and which do not use the Harvard system for referencing these (see and use this website). Penalties at level 2 and 3 are much harsher. IMPORTANT: In order to get a first class mark (i.e. above 70%) it is a necessary pre-condition that your research be triangulated (comes from more than one source), uses a selection of peer reviewed content (journal articles, textbooks, conference papers) from trusted sources.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t use Google. It DOES MEAN that you should use it wisely,and that you should ALSO verify your search’s content by other means.
This week’s task
At some point this week read the document "Of course it’s true - I saw it on the internet!" - it will take you about 25 minutes. Think about what the author says about information sources on the internet - they can be commercial, academic, governmental, personal opinion or the output of pressure groups. Discuss with a friend how you value the academic validity of the information from each of these sources. Which do you value most highly? Which the least? Why? Consider the following statement:
“Playing violent video games makes children more likely to be violent in everyday life"
First decide what you ‘gut reaction’ is. Do you agree, disagree, or have no opinion on the statement? For the purposes of this activity you will need to ‘set aside’ you opinion and adopt the position ‘I don’t know’. Using at least three sources that you believe to be academic in nature (remember peer review, trusted source) and in no more than 500 words, briefly report on the evidence provided from your search. Include correct citations Finally, on the balance of the evidence you have found, make a decision on whether the statement is completely true, possibly true or completely untrue. If you cannot decide, state why it is difficult to make a decision. At the end of your report you must provide three references in the CU Harvard format. For help on citations & references use this website (use Harvard APA referencing!!!!!!)
This debate started in the 1950's about the effects of TV violence on children. The academic discipline that has probably the most research on the question above is SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, however you will also find the question examined in disciplines such as sociology, cultural studies, and computer game studies.
Useful search terms (yes Google!):
- Media effects debate / Media violence debate
- Albert Bandura / Bobo the clown experiment
- Folk devils
- Video game behavioural effects
- Game Brain
- Media violence research
- The Cultural Policy Challenges of Video Games
Useful Journals and Conferences: Psychological Science Journal, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Digital Games Research Association.
In your argument, be mindful of, and comment on, the source of your information (is it opinion? is it statistical? Who funded the research? Who funded the website where you found the information?). Using only one source of information is tantamount to “believing the first thing you read” so avoid doing this!
A 500 word report,including citations/quotes supporting or refuting the statement: “Playing violent video games makes children more likely to be violent in everyday life". Include your decision about which is the more convincing argument. Include 3 references in APA Harvard Format.
This piece of homework does not directly address any of the Module’s learning outcomes. See it more as ‘academic training’ in the pursuit of the module’s learning outcomes.