Sameer S. Phanse, Author of ‘Research Methodology’ published by with Oxford University Press India
When the Prime Minister hugged and consoled a weeping ISRO chief post with respect to the unsuccessful Moon landing, it not just warmed hearts but conveyed more about Indian science than what any policy or scholarly analysis could.
Like the moon’s dark half, this spectacle unveiled the rarely seen emotional facet, not just of research, but also of a rather sober statesman and an otherwise stoic scientist.
For the public, it was a lesson that science is fallible. For students, it was a heartening proof that although research may falter, it’s all right to fail and share the anguish. Research sponsors noted how emotional quotient could rekindle the research spirit. Researchers had a demonstration of the sheer vulnerability of even the most indulged and hyped hypothesis in the unforgiving validation process of science.
Science develops the theory (knowledge) of discipline while technology is its application (practice). The theory is the genesis of informed practice and such practice begets more refined theory. At ISRO, such synergy between theory and practice created a perfect amalgam resulting in nearly creating history against challenging odds.
The theory is about thinking right, practice is about doing the right things. The two must be in sync. The malady of Indian research is theory lagging practice, undue emphasis on mechanical execution instead of insightful thinking. The theory appears weak and is not linked to practice, a clear case of frenzy in Indian research. The implications can be disastrous.
The research agencies are least interested in “why” (theory or methodology) of research, that their focus is “how” (practice or methods).
A methodology was considered “old-school” and passé, and entity use “data analytics”.
Commercially motivated, conscious side lining of theory for quick fixes, is itself unpardonable, but to ignore first principles and irresponsibly dump data into software is blasphemy! Software cannot substitute or guarantee the wisdom of sound methodology.
Sponsors must strive to identify and disqualify methodology-suspect ventures at the proposal stage itself. Too much is at stake to blindly for sake decisions to an unscientific attitude.
In academia it’s the same story. Some Universities’ syllabi at the post-graduate and doctoral (Ph.D.) levels, pass off knowledge of methods as methodology. The fact is that methodology being the logic of methods, is conceptually higher. In fact methods are derived from methodology yet methods receive inordinately greater indulgence.
Theory of research (methodology) addresses the “Why-so”, imperative for a professional decision. Practice (methods) provides the “how-to”, undue focus on which makes a “technician”, a follower who cannot handle ambiguity. Methodology is often taught in isolation to methods, their empowering forward-backward interlinkage left unexplored.
Many publications unabashedly propagate this disparity. An Indian book that has been used by generations, including yours truly, carries “research methodology” in its title but, devotes barely two pages to methodology, the rest being about methods.
Reviewing articles only validates my belief that methodology is the Achilles heel of Indian research. Papers after paper are grossly methods oriented with a meagre discussion of substantive theory or methodology. It’s scary to think that thousands are conducting “research” with little grounding and while quality journals may not approve them, they may well make it to numerous sub-standard ones.
With increasing competition, limited opportunities and pressure to be published, it is no surprise that able researchers feel tempted to short-change on theory and an increasing plethora of mediocre publications is only too happy to oblige.
To cap it all, one of the oldest, most prestigious universities in India recently revised the “research methodology” in a course title, with an apologetic “research methods”!
Do we want misguided, uncritical followers? Are we unwittingly killing the research spirit? Research methodology and methods are clearly disengaged. We need to urgently address this schizophrenia.