What is Research and Why is it Important? 

Research is any investigative activity that is carried out by a person or a group, with the goal of discovering something new, at least to them. Research can be conducted on existing published information, or can be conducted by making new observations. Research is not the same as training or education. These latter two activities involve the learning of information already obtained by someone else. Research cannot be learned – it must be conducted.  Most scientific research is conducted in universities because these institutions give the greatest possible freedom to the investigators.

Scientific research is guided by the Scientific Method.  In the Scientific Method, observations are made of unexplained phenomena (in any discipline) and questions are posed about their origin.  Scientific researchers then develop hypotheses to explain these phenomena and design experiments to collect the data that will best help them accept or reject these hypotheses.  The main purpose of the experimental design is to remove bias.  This imparts credibility to the results and allows the experiment to be repeated by others.  This is important component of all research; the methods must be capable of being reproduced by others to produce similar results.  Results from any scientific inquiry can result in new knowledge, help correct prior studies or be incorporated as part of the general knowledge base on a particular subject.  In many cases, a researcher’s conclusions can generate more questions and more hypotheses that build on our knowledge base.

Another key component of scientific research is that the results are made available to other scientists for their scrutiny and assessment.  This is accomplished through the academic literature.  The methodologies and results are made available to other scientists for review. If the science is deemed sound, it will be approved for publication in the scientific journal to which it was submitted.  Research is usually only considered once it has been reviewed and published.  If this process is followed carefully, the science can stand on its own safe from accusations of bias or conflict of interest.

When science is done properly, the good ideas flourish and the bad ideas perish.  We continue to build on good science to provide us with answers about the natural and human-influenced world from large-scale issues like climate change to smaller-scale problems like the decline of the Monarch butterfly population.  Many people might be shocked to learn that virtually everything we have learned about the planet (and beyond!) has come about because of scientific research.


– Photo by Peter Kelly

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