Acting Like a Scientist
3rd September 2016 | Professor Nick Lee
In the last issue of the Journal, I wrote about the importance of thinking like a scientist. In simple terms, this is the process of asking the right questions, and avoiding assumptions and ideologies about what “should” be the right answer. If you’ve digested that column, and are ready to think about how best to go about answering those questions, then read on.
However, if you didn’t read last issue’s column, it would be a great idea to go back and check it out, or refresh your memory if you need to. This is because, without asking the right questions, it doesn’t matter how great your research design or your data is. Yes, even if you can get that fabled “big data” that seems to be presented as the answer to everything these days.
In fact, as I’ll show you here, big data sure isn’t the answer to everything – more junk is just more junk. Worse, it can even give you misleading answers, because people tend to trust the results of sophisticated research methods and fancy data, even if that data is basically meaningless. For example, I once did a piece of research that showed people trusted brain scan images more than anything else, even when those images were totally unrelated to the problem at hand!