On 12/07/2012 20:03, Frank Newton wrote:
I may have a less exalted view of research than James. I’m reminded of the endorsement on the Crest toothpaste tube: “Crest [has been shown to be an effective decay-preventive dentifrice which] can be of significant value when used in a conscientiously applied program of oral hygiene and regular professional care.” It turns out that’s a lot of conditions or “ifs”, and research is like that too: unless a lot of conditions are met, research will be useless every time. Research can be helpful but it is no substitute for a sound tradition, and we have that in cataloging.
I am not much of a believer in research either, because I have often run across studies that were labeled more or less “definitive” when they came out in the 1920s or 1930s or 1940s and naturally all of it was later found to contain lots and lots of errors. Research is never a final result. This is also not to say that doing research is no good, but what is needed is research plus professional opinion, plus as John would say, “critical thinking”. All of these must work together. Without actively finding out what others want and avoiding dogma as much as possible, a professional is stuck in a room full of mirrors and it becomes exceedingly difficult even to imagine something outside.
Perhaps at certain times, as I mentioned in one paper of mine, during periods of “evolutionary stasis” or periods of little change, being stuck in a room of mirrors is not such a terrible state of affairs, but at other times, of “evolutionary stress”, individuals who want to survive must become much better aware of their environment and how it is changing so that they can take measures of some sort. Still, everyone must keep in mind that the results of any research can be overturned by new research, so you must be prepared to change course at any time. It seems as if this is the very essence of survival of the fittest.
i admit that it would be preferable to have guideposts that are planted solidly in the ground, but during times of great change, at least everyone can take solace in the fact that nobody knows the right way forward. At least everyone is in the same boat!
So, I am not complaining about the results of research–I just suggest that everyone imagine how our successors will consider those results 50 years from now.