Every so often a piece of academic research related to law enforcement is discovered by the popular media, summarized and used to promote a pre-existing editorial point of view.
If you’re like me, your blood pressure can soar just from reading the headlines this generates, as you know where the commentary is headed.
Instead of being frustrated at how research is used to support various points of view, follow these six tips to interpret the findings.
1. Recognize your own bias
I had a student who was reporting on his study of domestic violence. He quoted the outcome of a research study and then said, “But I don’t really believe that.” Data that contradicts what we think we know is hard to digest, but the point of research is to challenge our assumptions. Usually research focuses on answering a very narrow question and won’t, by itself, create major paradigm shifts.
2. Recognize bias in the research
Every researcher should know that bias is impossible to avoid. Who funded the research? How was the research question phrased? What political issues may have spurred the interest in conducting the research? What assumptions are acknowledged by the researchers? Is the report full of words that express emotion or political bias? For example, abortion can be phrased as women’s health care, murder, pro-choice, pro-life, eugenics and so on. Researchers can claim that “nearly half of those surveyed agreed with X” or lament that “fewer than half of those surveyed agreed with X,” using the same data to make contradicting claims.
3. Read the research paper, not just the abstract or media presentation
Summaries and translations into the…