The other day I was on a Facebook page dedicated to vaccines reading an article about HPV rates and vaccine usage. Naturally, there were the usual anti-vax trolls there to sow the seeds of conspiracy. One woman, though, said something that really makes my blood boil, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard or seen this phrase uttered.
“Do your own research.”
This is what the “two sides to every theory” argument, as fallacious as it is, really boils down to. “Well you know, there are two sides to every issue, and not everyone agrees, so do your own research and come to your own conclusions.” That’s what a lot of these discussions or debates boil down to.
And it isn’t just vaccines. You can find this argument in a variety of areas–climate change, GMOs, evolution, the BBT, etc. And it isn’t just science. You can find discussions on politics and philosophy where someone eventually implores someone to “do their own research.”
In my experience, asking someone to “do their own research” really is just code for, “Here, read this thing that I’m totally biased toward.” And that’s what ultimately really upsets me most about this phrase or this tactic–it conflates reading with research, being well-read with being well-informed. In reality, all of those things are mutually exclusive. You can do a lot of reading and still be grossly misinformed, especially if you’re reading drivel or you don’t understand what you’re reading.
And similarly, simply reading something isn’t research. We’re talking about science, not buying a used car.
When you get down to it, what people like this anti-vaccine woman are doing isn’t research–no matter how they fancy Googling and watching YouTube to be research. Simply reading contradictory information isn’t the same thing as performing a scientific experiment to confirm or deny something. “Doing your own research” would entail actual scientific work–doing an epidemiological survey in this specific instance. In general, starting your own lab and using the scientific method to test an assertion yourself would actually be “doing your own research.”
Of course, in real life, that’s never what’s implied or recommended. It’s always links to websites, books, videos–none of which are scientific in the least. And if by chance someone DOES happen to cite something from an actual scientific source, it usually has absolutely nothing to do with the claim that they’re making; they’ve tangentially used other research to make a claim that lies outside of the original research, but which confirms a bias or a fear.
In reality, if all the anti-vax/GMO/Climate change/etc people out there really DID do actual scientific research, they’d abandon their conspiracy theories and other beliefs, because they’d see the empirical data for themselves. Of course that isn’t to say they can’t already see the data for themselves–thousands and thousands of researchers and scientists all over the world have already performed countless experiments showing the data.
But for whatever reason, these anti-(insert here) people don’t like data that’s consistent and predictable that contradicts their values or fears. And thus we have “Do your own research.” Which is a polite way of asking people to basically ignore quantitative and empirical data and evidence in favor of biased pseudosciecne, quackery, or denialism.
If I could sum all of this up, it would look like this:
This is NOT what research looks like
THIS is what actual research looks like: