The Citizen's Guide to Research

I am really excited about the launch of my new email series, the Citizen's Guide to Research. I've been working on this for months! From my experience as an educator, journalist, and maker, I know that many people are daunted by research and data. If you're not in academia, the world of research and science seems like an utter mystery. It's been my goal for many years to come up with a way to make research more approachable for the public. It seemed like a great time to launch this new effort.

This guide is a weekly, bite-sized lesson about research sent straight to your inbox. It provides some easy, actionable steps that you can take to become a smarter, savvier citizen.

Lessons include:

  • How research is reported in the media;
  • How research is conducted;
  • How research is published and funded;
  • How to access published research;
  • How to interpret charts and graphs;
    and more, including interviews with researchers from all disciplines. 

The series is totally free, fun to read, and all you have to do is sign up here:

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The Researcher's Pledge

Regardless of your political values, I think we can all agree that last week's United States presidential election impacted many of us deeply. Many of us researchers felt betrayed by the way data was used during the election season. The world relied on it, and we were surprised and shocked by the reality of it, which told a very different story. I wrote a post on Medium about the importance of making data more inclusive so that we can better measure and account for the nuances of politics. 

Research is my absolute passion and, I feel, my purpose in life. My love for research has lead me down a path of literacy activism, most recently volunteering in the refugee resettlement program in my city. I care very deeply about the ethics of research and journalism, and the people who are impacted by these ethics. I'll admit that I felt helpless last week, scared and worried for the state of the world. And like many, this kicked me into action. Research and data are becoming more and more important, and since there's just so much of it, researchers and librarians and information scientists are more important than ever to help make sense of it all. 

So I created the Researcher's Pledge to commit to using research for good, which consists of the following commitments:

  • I commit to making my research open and accessible to the general public;

  • I commit to making my methodology inclusive, to the best of my ability;

  • I commit to being transparent in my methodology and biases;

  • I commit to holding journalists and researchers accountable for flawed or misrepresented data;

  • I commit to holding high standards for peer review, both for my own research and the research I cite;

  • I commit to collaborating across disciplines to conduct research beyond the confines of the Ivory Tower;

  • I commit to educating and empowering my community to understand and interpret data and science;

  • I commit to adhering to strict ethical standards that protect and prioritize the safety of the subjects of my research;

  • I commit to using my research to enlighten, educate, and inform.

Above all, I commit to using the research process and scientific method for good.

If you're a researcher, scientist, writer, genealogist, etc., please take the pledge. You can also download the badge to display on your social profiles.

What is Open Access, and why is it important?

This week is Open Access Week, celebrating and promoting the importance of OA research. According to SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition):

"Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles combined with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. Open Access is the needed modern update for the communication of research that fully utilizes the Internet for what it was originally built to do—accelerate research."

Open access ensures that research — all of it, including the original data, and not just the final published article — is accessible to the public. Currently, much research produced by academic scholars and industry researchers is locked behind paywalls, which are only accessible if you're part of an academic institution or willing to pay anywhere from $20 - $150 for one article. For educators, journalists or researchers who don't work for a major institution, this means that accessing research is very difficult. 

Also, researchers are heavily encouraged by their institutions to publish in major journals, because it reflects well on their department. However, these journals typically don't pay researchers anything for their contributions; in fact, there's often an entry fee required. Open access, while free, can help researchers break out of this old-school system of the research to publishing funnel. 

A common argument against OA is that it's not as rigorously peer reviewed as many established journals. But this isn't the case, and there's a concerted effort in the research field to expand upon peer review, and let more people participate in the process. 

Why is it important?

Open access is fundamental to the work we do as researchers: to be critical thinkers and writers, and conduct studies that can lead to advancements and improvements in peoples' lives. It also lets the general public access research and draw their own conclusions from original data. 

What you can do

Whether you're a researcher or not, you can still participate in OA advocacy by contributing your research to OA journals, or requesting that your local library or educational institution include OA publications in their databases. Sign up at OpenAccessWeek.org