Research that makes you laugh

A few days ago I was talking to someone who had obtained a doctoral degree in public health by studying case stories of five women (!!!) who had been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Upon listening, I requested him/her to share the research with me, since it must have been registered as such in a university and there was nothing to worry about plagiarism. The response I got was this- “I am afraid I will have to take the permission of those whose stories I have written in the study, and if they agree I do not mind sharing the study further.”

I was astounded to hear that. In other words, as part of the research had their identities not been changed, to ensure anonymity? Or was that research done just for the sake of degrees, and now the degree having been granted, there was no need to share the research any further?

What a small minded attitude I thought to myself. What sort of ethical values would this person have maintained in the research, if it is so difficult to share the outcomes of a study, for which a new degree has been given? And sooner or later, based on this degree this person would be in the job market – looking for a job. So if they had such a problem sharing the outcomes of their research, what sort of addition to knowledge would this research have made? Why do people work in research?

It is a such a shame in this country and then people lament the fact that good research is not happening in India. Is it any surprise that it is NOT? This brings me to a few connected issues, which are all stand alone things, but all being about research am mentioning them here-

First- I was recently talking to a friend of mine, who is a senior (due for retirement in a few years) professor of Psychology in a premier university of India, a great scholar and a very learned person. He shared with me that there had been interviews in his department for which they had received the applications of about 300 candidates, for 15 jobs, and all applicants were Ph.Ds. But he further added, not a single was inducted (!!!), not even to the extent of being invited for interviews, for their resumes itself looked not up to the mark. I was extremely surprised to hear that.

Second, it reminds me that a few years back I had met the chapter-director of a global NGO, that works with children. Generally in the course of my communication with him i had asked him what had been the area of his doctoral study. And he had told me that whatever it was he was not happy to share it further because he was not proud of it anymore!

Third, last year after a public lecture in a lecture hall, a senior professor of psychiatry was asked by a student, from among the listeners, how research questions should be chosen! I was so amused with the question that I felt like telling them that they ought to discuss with me! A whole lot of research in mental health happens in inane areas, which have no effects on the people and does not even reach them, while researchers in all sorts of institutions, on public money spend years chasing ideas that really do not contribute any knowledge to the pool of human knowledge or solve any issues of the world around us. What a sham.

Perhaps this is how research is really done in India, where people do not merit jobs after it, and the ones who get the jobs based on those degrees do not want to share it further, nor it has any effect on anyone’s life in the world. Reminds me how different my own experience has been, even though no university considered me worthwhile to enter its portals, for I was just a few marks short of the prescribed limits; that too in an exam I had taken over a decade-and-a-half ago, during a phase of acute illness. I was not condoned for that lapse 16 years later, despite having publications in peer-reviewed journals.

So even though they did not open any doors for me, I still chose to work in research, unconcerned who pays for it (my family did, by paying all my bills in these past years). So now that the proofs of my labour are showing, I know I have been honest to the core in my work. After the first of those publications, the next forthcoming one is in the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy (the biggest breakthrough for me really, considering it is a new area), a book chapter in an edited book, another paper pending review and of course the qualitative study of those 13 people that is near completion now.

I found it so laughable that the person in the first paragraph said to me that they would have to take permission of the research informants to share their stories further! In my own experience, once the informants are ready to share their stories, which they do only upon being sure they are safe in sharing their narratives, they really do not bother about how they are represented. Of my own research informants I shared the story of one person with a journalist and it came out in the Hindu newspaper as well, two years back. I asked that person later if they were okay that i had shared their story with the newspaper and he was so matured that he was just fine , for there was no way anyone would have found out it was  him who was being talked about.

Do researchers have any commitments toward their research informants? Is that anyway to conduct research on live humans that you have to keep hiding the outcomes from the world or share them with select people only? I am shocked, amused and feeling better about my own work now. No wonder when no university opened its doors for me, all the professors I knew told me, that I was the better for it! Of course at that point I could not but feel upset about it- but on hindsight I think I am the richer for working alone, where I can directly discuss ideas with these senior people without having the compulsion to follow them, if my heart does not agree. This is called real freedom and in this freedom I have always worked- the outcomes will soon come. Insha’allah.

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