Evaluating Scientific Research

Scientific research is a challenging endeavor. It requires the adequate knowledge of a subject in terms of both the theoretical foundations as well as practical considerations. While in broad terms scientific progress can often form the bedrock which drives technological innovations, the importance of specific scientific research projects is often contentious. I wanted to summarize and evaluate the broad themes I observed which drove research projects at Stanford

1. Research solving societal problems: Societal problems like malnutrition, poor preventive health care, access and cure for diseases, rising income inequality and access to energy and a good quality of life or even climate change are all extraordinarily important to address. Scientific research certainly helps us develop newer methods to address these challenges. Some research projects certainly advance the state of modern technology and science and its ability to address these looming social problems. At times though, the links between the actual scientific advance and its ability to impact the social problem is specious and needs more thorough and careful evaluation.

2. Research advancing the state-of-the-art technology: Technology ultimately enables us to do more with less – either more accurately, faster or cheaper. Most technology builds on an underlying physical, chemical, biological principle or a mathematical model. Developing a technology requires understanding the underlying principle and developing tricks and means to applying the principle to address the challenge. A caveat to keep in mind is that technological progress can often be quite nuanced or cannot be suitably scaled to address related problems or be very hard to practically implement.

3. Research advancing our understanding of a subject: With deep study of a subject underlying limitations of knowledge in a subject become apparent. This is often seen through contradictions, unexplained observations or unanswered questions. Scientific experiments and studies are carried out to test new hypothesis or make new discoveries which strengthen the understanding of the subject. However, in some cases the new ideas put forth may not be adequately tested or maybe highly specific to a domain, and may not address any significant limitation in our understanding of the subject.

As is the case with most categorization, a piece of research can overlap with multiple categorizations, or may even be outside the scope of this classification. It is useful to view research through this lens since all research categories, have inherent limitations. The existence of these limitations, forces us to carefully address the issues and improve the quality of our work. Ultimately, evaluations are subjective, and maybe dependent on social factors or other factors influencing an individuals judgement.

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