Wednesday, October 10, 2012

All Science is Social

When I say that all science is social, I mean it in two ways:
  1. That it is not enough to produce research, we must persuade others that our research is interesting, relevant and convincing.  If a scientist conducts an experiment in the woods and nobody hears/sees it, then does the research exist?  Just a bit.  No, you need to persuade others by being clear about the question, by situating where it fits in the broader scheme of things, by justifying the research design, by explaining the research, by developing the implications, etc.
  2. That research improves when one gets feedback.  That getting comments, suggestions, criticisms and such are a crucial part of the process.
Which is why I feel justified about my jaunt across the pond to Dublin and London.  I presented three different slices of my research: the new diaspora project that is just in the data collection phase; the theory and findings of the NATO and Afghanistan project; and the implications of the NATO project for its efforts to engage in "Smart Defense."  I received very useful comments during and after each presentation, even as each presentation was quite different in how much feedback I/we had already received.  The diaspora project has rarely seen the light of day (one previous conference presentation), and the data collection has been the major effort.  The theory/findings of the Dave&Steve NATO project has been presented a heap of times, but that does not stop smart students and faculty in Ireland from asking questions that push the work just a bit further. 

The Smart Defense was the second time I presented that, and received very interesting suggestions--so much so that I am now inspired to write the first draft of a paper.  Yes, the last presentation (you can see the slides here) was based on some thoughts about our conclusion and then organizing what I thought about Smart Defense.  It apparently did not suck too much.

There is more to my desperate desire for attention besides narcissism: that when other folks focus on my work, I tend to learn a great deal and the work gets better.  Many folks are critical of the journal/book/grant review processes, which can be flawed, but I do appreciate the comments (well, most of them) that I get along the way. 

Of course, I will always cherish the guy who commented on the Irredentism book, saying we didn't go back far enough--not back to 1389 but back to the ancient Egyptians--to understand 1990s Europe.


William B. Heller said...

Well, I've been told you can't understand Spain unless you got back at least to 711. I thought that was a long way to go, but ancient Egypt is a bit more.

Anonymous said...

Stephen, that's "defence" remember , you're in Canada now, excuse me while I go get teary eyed for the maple leaf.

Steve Saideman said...

Just don't pick on me for not adding extra u's everywhere.