Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why is finding the cure to cancer more "scientific" than finding the answer to social problems?

Full disclosure: I am a behavioral scientist, not a "hard" scientist.

I was having a conversation just now with someone from pharmacy, who was talking about how hard it was to get a PhD in pharmacy and do research in pharmacy, "because you have to have positive evidence and so much research ends in failure."

Yes, I understand that. Much of my research--and that of other behavioral scientists--ends in "failure." You do not find what you hoped, or what you thought, or the answer that will make a difference. And it was hard to get a PhD, and to do the research necessary to further the development of our profession--social work is a profession, not a discipline. We have to have a license to practice, just like pharmacists and nurses and doctors.

"No, this is different. You have to have data that shows dirt is dirt, and if you don't, it is failure."

Okay. How is finding out dirt is not dirt any more distressing than finding out we cannot figure out how to end poverty? Why is not finding a specific protein that contributes to x disease more important than not figuring out why Johnny can't read, or why men beat their wives, or why there are more black children in child welfare custody than there are black children in the state?

It seems to me that we have more than enough "hard" things to do in advanced education and research--and in trying to change the conditions that in many ways we have created for ourselves--than to be wasting effort convincing someone of whose job is harder. Frankly, back in my former life when I mopped grocery stores from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m, wielding a mop that weighed more than I did just so I could pay my rent and eat, I am not sure you could have convinced me that any job was harder.

Maybe it is all a matter of perspective. But then, I felt like I had the supreme compliment from my boss today. When I told her someone had told me I was like "Dr. X" she replied, "No, the thing that makes you different is that you are willing to consider that you might be wrong."

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