How To Respond To A Call For Chapters – Twelve Top Tips

callingI recently put out a call for chapters for an edited collection on research methods in times of crisis, together with my co-editor Su-ming Khoo from the National University of Ireland. We received an astonishing 102 proposals in response, and selecting chapters for publication was a really tough job. It also taught me a lot about what works – and what doesn’t – when responding to such a call.

We made our requirements very clear (if you want to take a look, you can download the PDF here). The call was circulated via social media and our own networks. Proposals began to arrive within hours, though over half arrived in the 48 hours before the deadline. I have learned a lot from this process and I’m happy to share it here.

  1. Address the editors politely and personally. Dear Dr Kara and Dr Khoo – fine. Dear Dr Helen and Dr Su-ming – also fine. (In some countries the former is commonly used, in other countries the latter. They’re both polite.) Hi Helen and Su – we were OK with this too as informality is increasingly acceptable by email. Dear Sir Or Madam – very much no. To Whom It May Concern – also no. If the editors’ names are on the call, use them.
  2. Don’t bang in something you wrote for another purpose in the hope that it will pass muster. It won’t. Take the time to prepare a proper proposal.
  3. Think about topics and themes that are likely to be common in the responses, then write something different. (We had a lot of proposals from researchers who wanted to write about how they had planned in-person interviews or focus groups, and now they were conducting interviews or focus groups online. This is understandable, but no editor is going to accept more than one of those.)
  4. If the call states a word count, stick to it; it’s there for a reason. (In our case, we knew the word counts for the chapters would be tight, so we needed to see that potential contributors could write effectively to a tight word count.)
  5. Use all or most of the allotted word count, especially if it’s low – unless you really can say everything that needs to be said in fewer words. Only one of our contributors did this effectively. Others submitted proposals around half of the length of the word count we specified. We have no idea why. Maybe they were trying to impress us, but it didn’t work, as they were unable to tell us enough about their work to give us confidence that it would make a good contribution to the book.
  6. You don’t have to include references in the word count – but in most fields we would suggest you reference lightly, if at all. Remember you’re only writing a proposal for a chapter, not the chapter itself. (I am grateful to my co-editor Su-ming Khoo for the latter point, and for approving the rest of this post.)
  7. If you want to reference the work of the editors, do so sparingly. Peppering your proposal with their names will not increase your chances of success. In fact, they are likely to read your work even more critically.
  8. Do not try to get around a word limit by adding extra information in the body of your email. The editors are unlikely to take it into account.
  9. In fact, keep your email brief and business-like.
  10. If the editors ask for specific information, provide it in your proposal; they are asking for a reason. For example, we asked for the location of the research, so we could ensure a good geographical spread. Some people responded with statements such as ‘online worldwide’, which was perfectly acceptable. Others didn’t state any kind of location which was unhelpful.
  11. There may be something relevant to your research that the editors haven’t asked for. If so, work it into your proposal. For example, we didn’t ask for information about the use of theoretical perspectives, because (a) we’re creating a practical methods book and (b) many methods can be used with more than one theoretical perspective and vice versa. (There’s a longer discussion here about the relationship between theory and method – and, indeed, practice. I’ll write about all that one of these days.) Even so, some contributors told us how they were using theory. That was useful, though never the deciding factor.
  12. Meet the deadline.

If you do all that, you are maximising your chances of success. That said, there are never any guarantees. We had to reject over 50% of the proposals we received, for a number of reasons; ‘didn’t meet the submission requirements’ was rarely the only reason. Sometimes we had two or more good quality proposals featuring much the same method, or approach, or participant group, or theme, and we would have to find other ways to choose between them. We spent hours on Zoom weighing up the pros and cons of different proposals and combinations of proposals. We spent more time negotiating with the publisher, Policy Press, to find ways to accept as many proposals as we could. The good part, though, is at the end of all this we’ll have an excellent book – or three!

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $52 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $52 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!


The Power To Do Things Differently

doing things differentlyAs an independent researcher I have the power to do things differently. My last journal article was in a forensic science journal; my next (due out in TQR on 13 July) will focus on comics. When I was writing my book on research ethics, I talked through the innovative approach I was taking with a senior professor, who commented that I wouldn’t have been able to write that book if I’d been working in academia.

There are increasing numbers of people doing research and scholarship differently. As a result, there are new societies and organisations springing up – and some that are not so new. The National Coalition of Independent Scholars (which, despite its name, is a global organisation) was formed in January 1989 to support researchers who are not part of an institution. It offers networking opportunities, grant awards, and discounts on professional services, and operates a peer reviewed journal. Some countries do have national associations of independent scholars, such as Australia (founded 1995) and Canada (founded 2001).

The Ronin Institute was founded in 2012 to facilitate and promote scholarly research outside academic institutions. It is based in the US and is a non-profit, which means its members can apply for some research funding (presumably restricted to US members and US funding). It makes a good case for funding independent researchers – something I’ve been lobbying for here in the UK, with the support of the Social Research Association – and also offers publicity and networking opportunities.

The Institute for Globally Distributed Open Research and Education (IGDORE) was founded in 2016 to improve the quality of science and science education, and to improve the quality of life of scientists and scientists’ families. They are open to researchers within institutions, though their main long-term aim is to build a new type of university where researchers can choose whether – and, if so, when and what – to teach, and the focus will be on using openly accessible materials and open source software to teach open and replicable scientific practices. At present they have a small not-for-profit campus in Bali, Indonesia, which is open to the public, and offers a small academic library, meeting rooms and facilities, and plenty of space to read, think, and work.

Others are also working to build new types of university. The London Interdisciplinary School plans to offer courses encompassing the sciences, arts, design, technology, the social sciences and the humanities. The aim is to produce graduates who are better equipped to tackle real-world problems than those who have studied a single or double discipline. Their admissions process does not only focus on grades, but also takes into account applicants’ educational, familial and personal backgrounds. Their first cohort will begin study in 2021.

An even more recent innovation is the Free Black University. This is a significant step in the essential decolonisation of academia. The long-term vision is for a university, with its own university press, which ‘will centre radical and transformational thought that may not be respected under the current frame of knowledge’. Also, the project is thoroughly intersectional, being ‘Black, queer, trans, anti-colonial, and revolutionary from its very heart’. Funds are currently being raised for the Free Black University. I have made a contribution. Maybe you could too – or, if money is tight for you, perhaps you could circulate the link on social media to encourage others to donate to this important cause. We all have the power to do things differently, in small ways and/or large, and to help others do things differently. Let’s find and use our power.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $52 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $52 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Research Methods Books By Women Of Colour

Last week I was tagged in a tweet asking this very interesting question:

I thought of a couple of responses immediately, then another the next morning. I also decided to write this blog post because I knew there was more I could say.

Disclaimer: this isn’t a ‘best of’ or a full review, this is simply what is on my shelves in my personal research methods library. I have found these books from social media, peer reviews, bibliographies, recommendations. Between them they cover a wide range of methods and topics: qualitative, quantitative and multi-modal research; arts-based methods and technology; decolonizing methods and Indigenous research; various disciplinary topics; and a lot of ethics.

‘Why to’ books

These books make a case for doing research in certain ethical ways. Let’s start with a classic: Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith. I read this ground-breaking book during my Masters’ in Social Research Methods around the turn of the century, and bought the second edition when it came out in 2012. This little paperback is remarkably comprehensive and full of wisdom.

Building on the work of Smith: Decolonizing Educational Research: From Ownership To Answerability by Leigh Patel (2016). This is a thoughtful, passionate clarion call for education research to focus on learning.

Building on both of the above: Decolonizing Interpretive Research: A Subaltern Methodology for Social Change, edited by Antonia Darder (2019). Interpretive research prioritises philosophical and methodological ways of understanding society. While this book is quite conceptual, its use of multiple voices provides a depth of insight into the importance of the points it makes. Also, if you have read Smith and Patel before you get to this book, it will make more sense.

‘How to’ books

Heewon Chang’s Autoethnography As Method (2008) is a book I frequently recommend to students. It is readable, practical, and clear. Autoethnography is sometimes criticized as self-indulgent and navel-gazing, but if you do it Chang’s way, it won’t be. Also autoethnography has a key role to play in these pandemic times.

Pranee Liamputtong’s Performing Qualitative Cross-Cultural Research (2010) is another classic. It is great on cultural sensitivity and gives lots of really helpful examples. Every researcher should read this book unless they’re absolutely sure they are doing monocultural research – and even then they would probably learn something useful.

Caroline Lenette’s Arts-Based Methods in Refugee Research: Creating Sanctuary (2019) is more specialist, yet has a lot to offer to anyone interested in arts-based methods. She pays particular attention to the methods of digital storytelling, photography, community music, and participatory video.

Indigenous methodologies

 Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts (2009) is by Margaret Kovach from Saskatchewan in Canada. This very readable book includes conversations with six Indigenous thinkers which contribute an interesting diversity of ideas and experiences.

Indigenous Research Methodologies (2019 – 2nd edition) by Bagele Chilisa from Botswana in Africa is another classic. It is also very readable and comprehensive.

The first disciplinary book I found on Indigenous methodologies is by Lori Lambert: Research for Indigenous Survival: Indigenous Research Methodologies in the Behavioral Sciences (2014). Lambert is from the US and, like Kovach, includes other voices in her work. However, the other voices in Lambert’s book are of people from Indigenous communities, in Canada, the US and Australia, who are subject to research. As is common with Indigenous research texts, Lambert’s book is very readable.

Maggie Walter from Tasmania is lead author of Indigenous Statistics: A Quantitative Research Methodology (2013) with Chris Andersen from Canada (who is a man, but I guess he can’t help that, and evidently he was happy for Walter to be first author so good for him). If you’re quant-averse, don’t worry; this is not about how to do sums, it’s about which sums are worth doing and why. And, again, it’s very readable.

Edited collections

These are both edited by men, but are on relevant topics and include chapters by women of colour. The first is White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology (2008) edited by Tukufu Zuberi and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. Two-fifths of chapters are written or co-written by women of colour.

The second is Research Justice: Methodologies for Social Change (2012) edited by Andrew Jolivétte. Only two chapters in this book are by men, the other 14 are by women (including Antonia Darder and Linda Smith). I reviewed this book for the LSE book review blog back in 2015.

Other relevant topics

While these books are not directly about research methods, they are on topics which are so relevant to researchers that I will include them here.

Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (2018), by Safiya Noble, is a passionately and beautifully argued book about why algorithms are not neutral and the impact that has on society. Researchers use search engines all the time and we need to know about this stuff.

Race After Technology (2019) by Ruha Benjamin builds on and expands Noble’s work. She demonstrates that advances in technology are lauded as objective and progressive, but in fact they reproduce and reinforce existing inequalities. Crucially, she includes a chapter on practical ways to counter this dissonance.

Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias (2020) by Pragya Agarwal helps us to understand and challenge our own unconscious biases. Any researcher concerned about ethics would benefit from reading this book.

In fact, any researcher concerned about ethics would benefit from reading any of the books listed here. Although the word ‘ethics’ doesn’t appear in any of the titles, each of these books points the way towards a more ethical research practice.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list of methods and other research-relevant books (and chapters) by women of colour. If you have other suggestions to make, please add them in the comments.

This is a simulpost with the blog of the Social Research Association of the UK and Ireland.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $52 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $52 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Call for Chapters

undefinedI am delighted to be working with Su-ming Khoo, from the National University of Ireland, to co-edit a book on Research Methods in Times of Crisis for Policy Press.

We put out the call for chapters last Thursday and we have already had several submissions.

This is no doubt in part because this is a fast-tracked book which will be swiftly written and produced, initially as an e-book. However, there is still plenty of time to respond to the call; the deadline is not until 15 June. So please click on the link above if you want to find out more, or download the PDF here.


The Pandemic And Difficult Real-World Ethical Questions

scales-309810__340As you probably know, I am interested in research ethics in the real world. The global pandemic has highlighted a number of difficult real-world ethical questions. These are always with us, but usually they rumble away in the background. Now they are occupying a lot of column inches, airwaves, and discussion time.

At national level, how should we balance people’s health needs with a country’s economic needs? We are seeing very different conclusions about this being drawn and implemented in different parts of the world. It is easy to say ‘we should all have done what New Zealand did’ but New Zealand is an island nation, over 1,000 miles from the nearest land mass, with a small population of highly co-operative citizens and an intelligent and empathic leader. Imagine a country with a couple of land borders, a large population of citizens who prize individual freedom over co-operation, and a sociopathic leader. I expect you can think of one or two which fit that description. So clearly not every country could have done what New Zealand did.

I learned early in my research career, from Strauss and Corbin’s book on grounded theory, that absolutes are red flags for ‘not enough ethical thinking’. So, while ‘we should all have done what New Zealand did’ might pass muster at the dinner table, the ‘we should all’ formulation raises my ethical antennae. So do words like ‘always’ and ‘never’, or their more subtly presented equivalents such as ‘everyone knows…’ or ‘that’s not how we do things around here’. As researchers, we need to learn to spot these red flags and then think beyond them.

A perennial difficulty for any kind of democratic government is to balance the need to create policy with the individual and collective freedoms of its citizens. If a policy is too vague, the citizens wail, ‘they’re the government, they should be making things clear’. If it is too specific, the citizens bellow, ‘they’re overstepping their authority, they can’t tell us what to do’. How can we write policy which is just specific enough?

Even when policy is really specific – ‘stay home, save lives’ – people don’t always comply. Everyone, all of the time, is balancing their own physical and mental health needs with the needs of others: family, friends, employers, creditors and so on. We all know people who didn’t entirely comply with the lockdown rules. Most of us are those people. I know I am. I broke the rules twice, once to buy a flowering shrub to plant in my garden while my mother, who died from COVID19 in April, was being cremated with none of her family present; and once to drive a few miles to see a friend for a distanced walk around country lanes during the difficult early phase of bereavement. I also took myself into isolation around 10 days before my government required me to do so. We all make up our own minds how much, or how little, to comply with policy and regulations. We think we’re right, or at least justified, in our actions.

This highlights more difficult ethical questions: who is right, and how do we decide? Freedom of speech is a fine principle and, like all principles, requires people to exercise responsibility alongside their rights. In a modern democratic society, we might decide that freedom of speech is not permitted where that speech incites hatred and abuse of others. That means misogynistic, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and other such statements are not allowed because women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, Jewish people and others have a right to live free from oppression, This trumps the freedom of speech of those who would oppress. So far, so straightforward – in theory, if not, alas, in practice. How, though, do we decide who is right in arguments which don’t run along such easily identifiable lines of oppression? What about the pro- and anti-vaccination movements? Vaccination has become very topical in recent months. The pro-vaccination movement cites scientific evidence and protection of vulnerable people; the anti-vaccination movement cites a range of evidence sources and freedom of choice; and religious arguments are cited by religious people to support both sides of the debate. This causes more difficulties at policy level: should governments support public health by making vaccinations compulsory, or support individual liberty by making them optional?

One question we should always ask ourselves as researchers is: ‘those people who think differently from me, what if they are right?’ It’s important to read arguments that we disagree with, and to consider them carefully. Why do we disagree? What can we learn from other arguments? And it is essential that we are willing to change our minds. If we don’t deal with all evidence as even-handedly as possible, how can we expect others to take seriously the evidence we generate?

Our own views are part of our identity, and we cannot understand our identity without understanding the existence of others. Also, identity is not singular but plural: one person may be a man, a father, an artist and an academic; another may be non-binary, a mother, a football player and an evaluation researcher. Each identity is affiliated with a group of people who also hold that identity. And each identity and group has its ‘others’: people of other genders, ethnicities, political persuasions, religious beliefs, and so on. This is an inescapable part of human life. As researchers, we need to consider the role of our own identities. Who are our ‘others’? How does this affect our work?

These are not easy questions – but then that’s ethics for you!

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $56 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $56 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Research methods to consider in a pandemic

methodsSince lockdown began, researchers have been discussing how best to change our methods. Of the ‘big three’ – questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups – only questionnaires are still being used in much the same way. There are no face-to-face interviews or focus groups, though interviews can still be held by telephone and both can be done online. However, doing research online comes with new ethical problems. Some organisations are forbidding the use of Zoom because it has had serious security problems, others are promoting the use of Jitsi because it is open source.

I’ve been thinking about appropriate methods and I have come up with three options I think are particularly worth considering at this time: documentary research, autoethnography, and digital methods. These are all comparatively new approaches and each offers scope for considerable creativity. Documentary research seems to be the oldest; I understand that its first textbook, A Matter of Record by UK academic John Scott, was published in 1990. Autoethnography was devised by US academic Carolyn Ellis in the 1990s, and digital methods have developed as technological devices have become more available to more people through the 21st century.

Documentary research is also called document research or document analysis. Interest in this approach has been growing recently, with two books published in the last two years in the UK alone. The first is Doing Excellent Social Research With Documents (2018) by Aimee Grant (with a gracious foreword by John Scott). The second is Documentary Research in the Social Sciences (2019) by Malcolm Tight. These books demonstrate that documents can be used as data in a wide range of research projects. Of course some documents are only available in hard copy, such as those held in archives or personal collections, but a large and growing number of documents are freely available online. A range of analytic techniques can be used when working with documents, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, or narrative analysis.

Autoethnography is ethnography written by, about, and through the researcher’s self (just as autobiography is biography written by its subject). In some quarters autoethnography has a bad reputation as self-indulgent navel-gazing. And of course, like all research methods, it can be poorly used – but when used well it has great potential for insight. I am seeing signs that there are going to be a lot of COVID19 autoethnographies, so I would recommend steering away from this, but there may well be other aspects of your life that could become a fruitful basis for research. Using autoethnography well requires the researcher to make careful judgements about how much of their self to include in the research as data, what other data to gather, and how to analyse all of that data. Also, good autoethnography is likely to have a clear theoretical perspective and implications for policy and/or practice. Texts I would recommend here are Autoethnography as Method (2009) by Korean-American academic Heewon Chang, and Evocative Autoethnography (2016) by US academics Arthur Bochner and Carolyn Ellis.

Digital research or digital methods are terms that have come to encompass a wide range of methods united by their dependence on technology. Although this is the newest of the three approaches I’m covering today, it is also the most complex and changeable. Many pre-digital research methods can be adapted for use in digital ways, and the digital environment also enables the development of new research methods. Documentary research in lockdown will be mostly, if not entirely, digital, and there is also scope for digital autoethnography. Texts I would recommend, again both from the UK, are Understanding Research in the Digital Age by Sarah Quinton and Nina Reynolds, and Doing Digital Methods by Richard Rogers. One thing to remember when doing digital research is that inequalities also exist in the digital environment; it is not a neutral space. I can recommend a couple of texts on this topic too, both from the US: Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Noble, and Race After Technology by Ruha Benjamin.

Doing research in a pandemic also requires considerable thought about ethics. I have long argued that ethical considerations should start at the research question, and I believe that is even more crucial at present. Does this research need doing – or does it need doing now, in the middle of a global collective trauma? If not, then don’t do that research, or postpone it until life is easier. Alternatively, you may be doing urgent research to help combat COVID19, or important research that will go towards a qualification, or have some other good reason. In which case, fine, and the next ethical question is: how can my research be done in a way that places the least burden on others? The methods introduced above all offer scope for conducting empirical research without requiring much input from other people. Right now, everyone is upset; many are worried about their health, income, housing, and/or loved ones; increasing numbers are recently bereaved. Therefore everyone is vulnerable, and so needs more care and kindness than usual. This includes potential participants and it also includes researchers. We need to choose our methods with great care for us all.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $47 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $47 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!


Not Spock! The myth of “objectivity” damages public trust in science

Dan Cleather cover kdpI am happy to host this guest post by Dan Cleather, a lecturer at St Mary’s University in London.

Public perception of the nature of science and scientists is neatly encapsulated in the portrayal of scientists on the big and small screens. It is a well worn trope – the scientist is a highly intelligent but eccentric character who struggles to understand human problems and to fit into society. Some of film and television’s most popular fictional characters are cast in this mould: Leonard Nimoy’s Spock in Star Trek, Dr Emmet Brown in Back to the Future, the Ghostbusters, Sheldon and the gang in the Big Bang Theory, Jeff Goldblum in almost all his films…

These characters suggest that scientists live in ivory towers where they seek to solve abstract problems without ever considering the human condition. Science is a complex game with little relevance to real life. As a scientifically literate, but admittedly weird, kid, I experienced the effect of these prejudices first hand. “Yes Dan, you’re very clever, but you have no common sense…”

Scientists often reinforce aspects of these stereotypes. Many scientists believe that science is objective – that they are engaged in a pursuit of universal truth and are unaffected by bias. Most scientists would consider this objectivity to be a hugely important, positive characteristic of science. In particular, they think that their objectivity and ability to impartially weigh the evidence should lend authority to their opinions on key issues of public debate like climate change or vaccine hesitancy.

Unfortunately, in today’s “post-truth” world, the expert opinion of scientists is increasingly marginalised. A key factor in this is a lack of public trust in scientists. In 2019, the Wellcome Trust published a survey of global attitudes to science and health which was based on responses from more than 140,000 people in over 140 countries. They reported that globally, only 18% of people had a high level of trust in scientists and 54% a medium level of trust. Only 40% of people believed that science benefits most people in their society.

The public’s perception of scientists is clearly a key factor in whether they will trust them or not. The problem here is that we would trust Sheldon Cooper to fix a mobile phone, but we wouldn’t let him look after our children. If people see science as clinical and soulless, they don’t believe that it will properly capture and reflect the human considerations that are important to them.

Dan Cleather Star_Trek_Spock

Both scientists and their opponents revel in the supposed difference between science and common sense. Scientists like it because it suggests that they have rarefied skills that aren’t available to the common person. For science deniers, a perceived lack of common sense serves as a useful cudgel with which to attack scientists’ positions.

The myth of scientific objectivity defines these debates in a similar way. Scientists consider that they have truth on their side, and thus have little patience for debate. Science deniers are suspicious of scientists’ claims to objectivity and believe that the stance serves to disguise some type of hidden agenda.

But is science objective? Of course not! We all have conscious and unconscious biases that affect the way we think. One key strength of science, however, is that we study our biases. The naive scientist believes that this process allows them to eliminate bias. Better scientists try, instead, to understand how their biases affect their thinking.

The apparent dichotomy between science and common sense is false. Both forms of thought are based on reason, and on using evidence to understand the real world. Scientific training is simply based on refining these skills and understanding how bias can mislead us.

The solution to vaccine hesitancy or climate change scepticism does not lie in disenfranchising science deniers because we believe they have an inability to listen to reason. For instance, public health messaging is more effective when a sustained effort is made to listen and respond to public concerns.  Scientists need to demonstrate how they use evidence to arrive at their positions. They need to show how the human factors that preoccupy science deniers are also captured within scientific debate, and that scientific consensus does account for their concerns.

It is disingenuous to claim that science is objective, and the public can see through this claim. Rather, scientists need to be honest as to the strengths and limitations of science, and be open to alternate points of view. Who knows, if we listen to the concerns of science deniers we might learn something that can help us.

As Spock himself put it, “”Logic is the beginning of wisdom … not the end”.

Dan is an affiliated researcher with the Institute for Globally Distributed Open Research and Education. His new book, “Subvert! A philosophical guide for the 21st century scientist” (, is out on 14th May 2020.

How To Prioritise


Laurie Prange is Professor of Business and Management at Capilano University in Vancouver. She and I have been talking online for some years, and last year I was lucky enough to meet up with her. She treated me to a wonderful brunch at Aphrodite’s Organic Café, and then we took a stroll to look at the beautiful Kitsilano houses by the ocean. Also, we talked non-stop.

Our online talk is more intermittent. Here’s an example from last week:


Laurie’s question got me wondering whether people are having difficulty in prioritising during these lockdown times, particularly those who are not used to home working. I had a look round the blogs I’ve taken to checking before I write a post, in case the topic has already been covered: the Thesis Whisperer, the Research Whisperer, Pat Thomson and Raul Pacheco-Vega. I found quite a lot of advice about planning, but very little on prioritising. And they’re not the same thing.

Planning is, of course, essential. You need a plan before you can prioritise. So this post assumes you have a plan. Some people need detailed long-term plans and Raul Pacheco-Vega offers lots of good advice on how to construct and manage this kind of plan. Others can manage with a pen and the back of an envelope. And others still – like me – take an in between approach. I have a top-level to-do list of all my current projects: research work for clients, teaching and speaking engagements, writing and publishing projects. I use that to create a lower-level list of what I need to do each month, then use that list to figure out what I need to do this week, and refer to that list each day to write my daily to-do list. This may sound like a cumbersome approach but in practice it takes just a few minutes each day. I write my weekly to-do list on a Friday evening for the following week, which helps me to put work down for the weekend in the knowledge that come Monday morning, I won’t have to think about what I need to do, I’ll only have to prioritise.

Prioritising is micro-level planning: it’s about what you do first, what you do next, and why. The former US President Dwight D Eisenhower coined a helpful principle. He said that it is necessary to understand the difference between urgent and important tasks. Those that are both urgent and important take top priority. Then – and this may seem counter-intuitive – the second priority goes to the important non-urgent tasks. This is because important tasks are those which help you move towards your goals, while urgent tasks may not be urgent to you but only to someone else. Of course to that other person the task may be both urgent and important – but if a task is not important to you, it should take a lower priority in your life. This is linked with the vital task of saying ‘no’. Then tasks which are neither important nor urgent take the lowest priority.

More things to consider when prioritising are your own energy level and working style. There are three good options for what to do first in any given day. One is the most urgent and important task on the day’s list; if something is screaming ‘now now now!’ then get it done first. Another option, particularly on a day when you don’t feel so good or you’re struggling with motivation, is to do a small easy task to give yourself a sense of achievement. The third – and the one I use most often – is to ‘swallow the frog’. This expression comes from a saying by the American humourist Mark Twain, who said that if the first thing you do each day is eat a live frog, then for the rest of the day you can have the satisfaction of knowing that the day’s worst experience is already behind you. This jest has become a useful metaphor in prioritising, summing up advice given to me as a child by my mother: do the thing you least want to do first of all or, at the very latest, second. It’s tempting to do the easier or more enjoyable tasks first, and work up to the more demanding jobs. But that can quickly turn to counter-productive procrastination, as the more demanding jobs are even harder later in the day when you’re tired.

Another thing that can help with prioritising is to eat a healthy balanced and regular diet. I can hear you asking me, Helen, what on earth has THAT got to do with it? Stick with me, reader; this is evidence-based. The psychologist Roy Baumeister used empirical research to demonstrate a link between willpower and blood sugar. Doing unappealing tasks takes willpower, which requires good blood sugar levels. This does not mean you should eat all the chocolate or snack throughout the day; that poses a particular danger in these lockdown times when the fridge is close at hand. It means you should, whenever possible, eat three healthy meals a day. If you have a low patch – for me it’s around 4 pm – add in a healthy snack; my go-to options include a cup of cocoa with no added sugar, or some carrot sticks and hummus.

It is also necessary to be flexible. Prioritising is not a one-off task; it needs regular revision in the light of external changes. The need to make changes can make people feel as though they are poor prioritisers, as if their prioritising techniques are at fault because they haven’t been able to stick to their original micro-plan. Don’t fall into that trap; recognise that changing circumstances require us to reprioritise, and be ready and willing to do so. Use good time management techniques, though, such as batching tasks and minimising distractions, to help you recognise the events that mean reprioritisation is needed. Don’t let your micro-plan be knocked off course by every incoming email.

And finally: always, always, prioritise self-care.

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Creative Research Methods – Second Edition!

Creative research methods (Second edition) [FC]My book on creative research methods was launched almost five years ago, at a conference on creative research methods at the British Library. The book has been well received worldwide and has had some excellent reviews. Around 18 months ago my editor and I decided it was time to start thinking about a second edition.

The field of creative research methods is exploding, and the changes to the second edition reflect the speed and extent of the field’s development. Almost all of the first edition content is still present, apart from a few edits and one or two citations which have been superseded by later work. And there is a lot more. Five new chapters, over 35,000 new words, and over 200 new references. And a new cover – isn’t it gorgeous?

Also some of the emphases within the book have been rebalanced. One proposal reviewer said they didn’t think there was enough in the first edition about research using technology; another said they would like more on creative approaches to quantitative methods. I wanted more examples from the global South. These have all been addressed.

The attentive reader may notice that the title has changed. The first edition was called ‘Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide’. That title always annoyed me; it should really have been ‘Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities, and to some extent STEM subjects as well’ but that was too unwieldy for a book title. This second edition is truly interdisciplinary so we’ve dropped the ‘social sciences’ tag, but we’ve kept the subtitle because the book is as practical as ever. It won’t answer all your questions – no book could do that – but it offers a fairly thorough guide to the options available, and is carefully referenced to help you find more information on topics of interest.

Sorting out the new structure was a massive headache and it took a few iterations before we arrived at the final result. The first part of the book has expanded from four chapters to five, with a new chapter on ‘transformative research frameworks and Indigenous research’. The second part has expanded from five chapters to nine. Data gathering, data analysis, research reporting, and presentation now each have two chapters, one covering arts-based and embodied methods, the other covering technology-based and multi-modal research.

As this suggests, my conceptualisation of the field has also changed in the light of recent literature. The first edition identified four ‘pillars’ of creative research methods: arts-based research, research using technology, mixed-methods research and transformative research frameworks. The expansion of the field over the last five years has led to the inclusion of embodied research as a fifth ‘pillar’. These are not mutually exclusive; creative research often falls into more than one, but they offer a useful way to help us think and talk about a highly complex interdisciplinary field. Also, thanks to the suggestion of an anonymous manuscript reviewer, the term ‘mixed-methods research’ – with its implication of quant data + qual data – has been replaced by ‘multi-modal research’. This term reflects the point made in the first edition, and now more widely understood, that methods may be combined within quantitative or qualitative research alone, and at any stage of the research process.

I’m really excited about this second edition and I hope you are too. It will be published in September and is available for pre-order now. I have developed a two-day course based on the book’s content, in conjunction with the UK’s National Centre for Research Methods, which we will run when everyone can move around again. Also, I am currently developing online versions in collaboration with universities in the UK and Australia. If you are at a university which would like to book me for a course, do get in touch.