Science and Everday Life - Research

re·search
/ˈrēˌsərCH,rəˈsərCH/

noun
1. The systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.

A few years back my wife and I were visiting my mom when she informed us that we should use WD-40 for sore joints. “Excuse me?”  I said. My mom was well known for her herbal remedies for all that ails you… but this was a bit out there even for her, God love her.  “Where on Earth did you get that idea?” I asked, holding back my urge to use some stronger language (this was my mom, after all). Well, it seems that she did her ‘research’ and WD-40 was the new wonder drug for arthritic joints. When pressed for the source of her research she just scoffed at us, telling us she knew what she was talking about… but we knew she was fond of those research papers you find by the grocery store check-out!

An amusing little story that still brings a smile to our faces, but here’s the catch: as much as we may dismiss someone’s ‘research’ on some given topic, there’s often a glimmer of truth there that we can’t totally dismiss. In my mom’s defense, I did take the time to look at a number of different sources of information and lo and behold, WD-40 has benzene in it that will be absorbed in the skin and could give the impression of some joint pain relief. More importantly, however, is that the product is highly poisonous and can cause a number of different problems in the body!

That’s the problem with the word ‘research’ these days. It seems that every day I have people telling me their thoughts and opinions on current events based on ‘their research’; be it global warming, vaccines or the state of our wildlife populations in the valley. Usually, we have civil and sometimes entertaining discussion or debate, and often we come to an agreement that more detail, or research is needed. I feel fortunate that those groups or individuals that I spend time with are usually open to looking at different opinions - even though they may have very strong ones of their own.

Pure research is an integral part of the scientific method – or the systematic method of solving a problem.  For everyday problems or questions, most of us will not worry about the six steps of the scientific method – but citing accurate sources of ‘research’ should still be a priority. Unfortunately, we find the misrepresentation of research findings these days may arise for a number of reasons. It may be wilful, dishonest, accidental, partisan, political, ignorant, biased, careless or any combination of these. What is even more unfortunate is that the misrepresentation of research is causing a lot of bad feelings amongst people and families. We don’t always have to agree, but we should be respectful!

So, here’s an interesting and controversial problem that deserves some careful research. Many outdoor enthusiasts blame the decline of our ungulate population in the East Kootenay on an apparent increase of predator population. But can we really put all the blame on the number of wolves? Are there too many hunters or mountain bikers? Misrepresenting current research, or worse yet, using misinformation from biased sources will not help solve the problem. But if you do some good research, you may find that this is a complex issue with at least six contributing factors; and if you do good research, we may find a good answer to the problem – or perhaps even more importantly, we can support those trying to solve the problem!

By the way, after looking at a number of sources of information together and discussing the pros and cons of WD-40 my mom decided that maybe she should stick with Rub A535 – and I even got some cake out of the deal!