Who’s doing your research?

“….as far as I am aware, [Molly Scott Cato] does not have any degree in Economics.”

These were the words of Brexit Party MEP Richard Rowland last week. Said in what can only be described as an embarrassing gaffe made in front of the assembled European Parliament. Scott Cato’s response was simple and succinct. She points out to Rowland that he ought to have paid more attention to her CV, as she is actually a Professor of Economics.

Scott Cato’s rebuttal of Rowland’s statement has flagged something significant. It identifies Rowland as someone who neglected to conduct even the simplest of google searches about one of his colleagues, before attempting to discredit them with a personal attack in front of an assembled parliament of European representatives.

As a researcher for JBP, I’ve had the chance to be involved in various projects – collating information on things as varied as international health awareness days to the backgrounds of local political candidates, all in preparation for client meetings. Sometimes a quick internet search will suffice, occasionally a half-hour phone call and a long list of questions is required, and, other times, to get a comprehensive view of a project it takes days looking over various OS maps and cross-referencing them with a list of addresses provided by local authorities.

Good research comes in different shapes and sizes, and it’s not always easy to know when a piece of research has reached its conclusion. The 40,000,000 Google search results that appear do not hold all the answers, and it’s a skill in itself to sense which o-page of the Goooooooogle will start to yield less-than-useful information.

The answer as to when a piece of research is well and truly done in the case of (still shame-faced?) Rowland is slightly simpler: the research task concludes sometime after it begins.

Granted, at the time Rowland did or did not do his research, it took a whole nine pages of search results before Scott Cato’s LinkedIn page appears.  But ignoring her Wikipedia page – one of the first results – is perhaps not so easily forgiven. A quick browse of the first few lines of the online encyclopaedia would have saved him a significant moment of national embarrassment.

Even the most minor of research tasks should not be treated as an afterthought tacked on to a wider project. It’s an integral part of the process – whatever that process might be – supporting a project’s credibility or, in Rowland’s case the credibility of someone’s career, and one wrong step can bring the whole thing down.

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