Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the March 2019 edition of TREE Press, the monthly gazette of TREE Fund. You can read the latest and back editions, and subscribe to future installments, by clicking here.
“Research” is the word that we use to define a set of protocols designed to help people turn subjective assumptions into (more) objective conclusions. It can take many forms, but the requirements of good research generally include:
- Intellectual rigor in seeking out and considering credible sources beyond those easily available in the public domain, even when they are not in alignment with the researcher’s presumptions;
- An ability and a willingness to compile and analyze qualitative and/or quantitative data using generally accepted statistical and scientific methods;
- A clearly-defined method for testing those data against a hypothesis, followed by a willingness to allow results to be re-tested by others;
- Independent affirmation of data and conclusions by peers in the field of research; and
- The recognition of the research’s utility, via cites and references from other researchers in the field of study, or wide-spread adoption of findings.
That list may be a bit academic, and perhaps it’s worth flipping the definition and asking: So, what isn’t high quality research, really? Some red flags:
- Using non-scientific public web sites (e.g. Wikipedia) as primary sources, since none of those sites index the countless proprietary resources that require library assistance to access;
- Throwing out entire sectors of the printed and online media worlds because they do not cover certain topics in ways that the researcher may wish to see them covered;
- Working in a vacuum, without the intellectual testing that comes from the healthy give-and-take of collegial debate and discourse;
- Reaching conclusions that are only cited or referenced by other individuals who enter the realm of research with the same viewpoint as the researcher; and
- Using shock tactics or logical fallacies to make pre-determined points.
When you compare those two lists, one point should become readily apparent: people can do the “wrong research” list without many resources, where the “right research” list is far more dependent on the availability of skilled human, laboratory, field and/or financial resources. Which, of course, is where TREE Fund comes in: we’re one of a small number of funding sources for tree research projects, and we play a key role in developing rigorous findings that practitioners can trust, rather than depending on hearsay, half-baked experiments, gut feelings, or professional folklore.
Our next grant will push us over the $4.0 million mark in total funds expended to advance scientific discovery and disseminate new knowledge in our field. It’s an important milestone for our community, even as we look forward to empowering the next research project to answer the next burning question that faces us. Our grant-making processes are designed to inspire trust in our outcomes, and when you, our readers and supporters, are making professional tree care decisions with significant property impacts associated with them, you should expect — and demand — nothing less.