Monday, March 30, 2009

Rectifications (5) – ‘The research shows…’

Rectifications (5) – ‘The research shows…’
Torrey Orton
March 30, 2009

Following the suggestion of Confucius, I continue some rectification of names for our times. Elsewhere I offer some ‘solutions’ to some problems of linguistic degradation. Relevant observations appear towards the end of my most recent Dances with Difference (4) post.

“The research shows...” appears in the everyday press and television (especially in the late night spruiking of face cleansers and miracle waters by the material and spiritual religionistas) as if it were an intellectual celebrity guarantee of the sanctity of the product offer. Its partner, research’s that is, is ‘evidence-based’ in the scientistic communities of health, education…in fact, in every domain of the everyday. I can hardly speak without citing, or referring to the possibility of citing, some evidence for whatever proposition I’m offering.

The research shows that evidence-based nutritional regimes have changed regularly (5 year cycle?) over the last half century, probably circling back around themselves a few times. Consider the virtues of wine or meats, red and white, or vegies white or coloured…. Or, how can I be sure that the end of various things is coming or not - peak oil, peak ice, peak GFC, trough food, jobs…?? Uncertainty is certainly the tune of our days (except for those in denial or, even more exceptionally, those in disengagement).

So where do they all (including my professional association and many others) get off with their claims to showing things with research? If I’m right in the preceding para’s (for which a booklength argument would be required, but…) research has become a marketing event. We do know this and discount it except where it matters as with the Big 5 (fluids, finance, food, climate…). Most of us are technically ignorant about these sorts of things, except as consumers, and we do know this, too. Hence the growing public doubt about claims by anyone about anything’s veracity, certainty, likelihood.

All of which contributes to a currently destructive dilemma: truth is a social construct out of shared experience. The possibility (and hope) of truth underlies the sharing of experience. But our experience is increasingly unshared and unshareable, except the burgeoning of virtual shares from which so much is hoped. Our memberships and identities, which underpin shared experience, are collapsing under the weight of tumultuous global disorders.

This collapse is aggravated by the fact that we cannot even grasp, not to say arrange, the ‘facts’ of our experiences. So, we are left to scrabble among the claims and claimants to our hopeless expectations to understand our world(s). It is not surprising that someone’s researches show that the fastest growing social entities are also often fundamentalist ones. This is an effect of excessive and unremediated doubt – the loss of our cultural potential to learn when we need it most.

So, in the small world of my work I use ‘objective’ to describe aspects of therapy clients’ worlds which they count on to some extent. Many find it a reassuring concept because their worlds are tumultuously disordered by the very factors which research is supposed to reassure us about but no longer can. The ‘objective’ contents, the facts, are things we agree on together (the clients and I). The process of agreeing is captured in the expressing of a perception about the outer world, including that one between us, grounded in facts which we can discussably accept as such. Much of the return of balance in ones disturbed world can be achieved simply by co-definition of its attributes, characteristics, etc. This is not a problem of diseased minds.

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