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Booth 1&3-1 - C H A PT E RON E ~ Thinking in Print T HE...

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C H APT E RON E ~ Thinking in Print THE USES OF RESEARCH, PUBLIC AND PRIVATE In this chapter we dtifine research, then discuss how you benefitfrom learning to do it well, why we three value it, and why we hope you will too. Whenever we read about a scientific breakthrough or a crisis in world affairs, we benefit from the research of those who report it, who in turn benefited from the research of countless others. When we walk into a library, we are surrounded by more than twenty-five centuries of research. When we log on to the Internet, we can read millions of reports written by researchers who have posed questions beyond number, gathered untold amounts of in- formation from the research of others to answer them, then shared their answers with the rest of us so that we can carry on their work by asking new questions and, we hope, answering them. Teachers at all levels devote their lives to research. Govern- ments spend billions on it, businesses even more. Research goes on in laboratories and libraries, in jungles and ocean depths, in caves and in outer space, in offices and, in the inf~rmation age, even in our own homes. Research is in fact the world's biggest in- dustry. Those who cannot do it well or evaluate that of others will find themselves sidelined in a world increasingly dependent orr sound ideas based on good information produced by trustworthy inquiry and then presented clearly and accurately. In fact, research reported by others, in writing, is the source of most of what we believe. Of your three authors, only Williams has ever set foot in Australia, but Booth and Colomb believe it exists, because for a lifetime they have read about it in reports they trust 9
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10 RES EAR C H. RES EAR C HER S, AND REA D E R S and have seen it on reliable maps (and heard reports about it from Williams). None of us has been to Venus, but we believe that it is hot, dry, and mountainous, because that's what we've read. But we trust that research only because we think it was done carefully and reported accurately. Without trustworthy published research, we all would be locked in the opinions of the moment, prisoners of what we alone ex - perience or dupes to whatever we're told. Of course, we want to believe that our opinions are sound, yet mistaken ideas, even dan- gerous ones, flourish because too many people accept too many opinions based on too little evidence. And as recent events have shown, those who act on unreliable evidence can lead us-indeed have led us-into disaster. That's why in this book we will urge you to be amiably skep- tical of the research you read, to question it even as you realize how much you depend on it. Are we three authors 100 percent drop-dead certain of reports that Venus is hot, dry, and mountain- ous? No, but we trust the researchers who have published reports about it, as well as the editors, reviewers, and skeptical readers who have tested those reports and published their own results. So we'll go on thinking that Venus is hot and dry, at least until we see better evidence that it's not.
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