The way in which people are influenced by society is a question many people ask to which many different answers are given. Of all the influences we can think of, one of the major influences affecting how people live their lives and act are due to the direct effect that research, its conclusions and its published findings have. Every single day we are bombarded with new statistics, numbers and correlations that researchers have published that can directly or indirectly create or mold societal values and even the degree to which something becomes a social norm. Whether it’s about the new fad diet that research has found to burn the most fat, or the newest correlation numbers have shown between the consumption of hormones and prevention of cancer over the past year, we are constantly flooded with this information from every resource of media someone can think of. As humans we are naturally attracted to facts and are quick to trust a claim backed up with statements like “researchers have found” or “lab scientists discovered” followed by numbers and percentages and bold word statements. As humans, we are addicted to new and latest information relative to our daily lives. Because of the need we express for new information and the trust that we give to it, we are reluctant to question the source and process from which this new knowledge has been acquired; this is what can make premature research and its published findings dangerous.
One of the most important questions to ask about published research is if it is valid. The validity of research is dependent on the degree to which the model, or measure is truly representative of what is under examination. It is easy to skew the results of research if one does not take into consideration the confounding variables, or variables that are not accounted for during research and can affect the validity of experiments. There are also issues such as the Hawthorne Effect where the influence of the researcher is directly imposed on the experiment and thus can drastically alter the outcome. To help level the playing field for researchers, a universal method used by researchers called the scientific method, provides a series of systematic and organized steps that allows a researchers to remain consistent in their exploration process. Methods like this help promote the validity of research and ensure that it is that much more reliable, or able to be repeated warranting the same results and minimize unwanted alterations. An example of invalid research from history stems from the election between Roosevelt and Landon when sampling error predicted that President Landon would win the election with over 55% of the vote. What the polling team did not take into consideration was that they sampled only people from an upper class population that were more likely to vote for Landon to begin with, and was not representative of the population as a whole. Roosevelt as we know had won the election.
Research of all categories is extensively funded and supported by government, non-profit organizations and communities looking for answers to unanswered questions, and regardless if a proper valid and reliable investigation was conducted, findings whether supportive of the researchers’s hypothesis or unsupportive, are published. Once published the public has access to review such conclusions and is instantly impacted by the information seen. Agents of socialization such as mass media and technology use information to appeal to the public eye and usually attempt to alter behaviors. For example, of all the magazines one can find on a grocery store shelf, how many of those magazine have a front cover advertisement promoting something “new” to help curb your appetite, or tell about five new exercises to protect your heart? In magazines and online articles where claims are not directly cited, sourced or backed up by valid research, it makes me wonder how much I can trust what is being circulated? A perfect example in history of bad research followed by manipulative publishing and the impact it had on society was something Newsweek (a trusted magazine by many Americans) called “The Marriage Crunch”. It was an issue that flew off the shelves in 1986 by college-educated single women across the United States. In short, the article supported that research showed that single women in 1986 in their early to late thirties were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than be married. The cover was donned with a fancy graph and exclusive numbers within the article to sell the point. As social intellectualist Joel Best puts it, social problem claims must compete for attention and when numbers have the weight of authority, through repetition regardless of how discredited a claim may be, it still has an impact on society (Best 2). With that the claim that women in their early to late thirties were more likely to be killed by a terrorist was highly discredited, but numbers have showed that the women of that time have very high percentages of marriage. My questioning wondered if there was an underlying motive that came with publishing the article. Is it possible that the adult women of 1986 read this article and instantly tied the knot as not to fall into a hopeless statistic? In the 80’s women continued to push changes in social roles which in time has led to social change. Was this poorly implemented and published research done purposefully to prevent deviance from traditional female roles in society?
When research is valid, the behavior changes associated with it are not always negative but positive. A perfect example of this is the conclusion scientist have made about the correlation between smoking cigarettes and developing cancer. Since discovered, published and made aware, many less Americans smoke today. But it is the research that is neither valid nor reliable and still published which has a very large impact on society- it becomes dangerous. As Americans, we put trust in the word research without questioning it, and when we are bombarded with numbers and statistics backed by said research, it is hard to deviate our thinking and we are altered by it. Though it is hard for an average American to determine what is valid research and what to believe and trust in without knowing the direct source, I personally believe it is healthy to question it every now and then. We have this contradicting belief that, “you can’t always believe what you hear in the news/internet/radio,” yet we cling to the information these sources provide to us without question. My suggestion to the information seekers out there is to be weary of sources that are not cited and stick to professional journals which most times allow the reader to review the research process and methods that was taken in collecting and interpreting data. Don’t be too quick to pay for preventative medication, buy a certain car, or move to a different state because of what poorly implemented research has done. Lastly, my suggestion to the researchers out there, carry out your research precisely and effectively. Have multiple peer reviews and be sure that the methodology of your research eliminates as many confounding variables as possible because once the word is out, one can never truly determine how it may affect its observers.
Joel Best, “Promoting Bad Statistics.” Society, March/April 2001:11-15.