On Being a Scientist

Posted on March 19, 2007

Don't confuse science and advocacy, advises Laurence Steinberg (bio).


I think most people who do research on real world applied issues involving kids have strong opinions about trying to make the world a better place for kids to grow up in. And that means that you often have to draw a line between different parts of yourself when you're doing this work, between the part of you that wants to advocate for kids and the part of you that's the scientist. And you can't confuse the two and you can't blur the two because as soon as anyone outside, in the media, in the advocacy world, wherever. As soon as anyone outside starts to believe that your work is biased in some way because you're trying to prove a point, undermines the credibility of your research and ultimately, and ironically, it undoes anything that you could possibly want to do to advocate for kids 'cause it makes people dismiss your research as unuseful.

My colleague Tom Grisso and I have written a little bit about this and one of the things that we say you really ought to do is to make sure that you've designed your research so that it is really possible to come to the opposite conclusion of what you really believe in your heart to be true, but you have to make a commitment that you're going to tell the truth because that's what science is about, no matter how it turns out.

I don’t think you can be both an advocate and a scientist at the same time. You can advocate on issues that you’re not scientifically involved in, but you can't be an advocate and a scientist around the same general issues, at least I don't think so. I know that not everybody agrees with that, but I do think that it hurts the integrity of the science.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher in March 2006.

Grisso, T., & Steinberg, L. (2005). Between a rock and a soft place: Developmental research and the child advocacy process. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34(4), 619-627.


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