Biased studies and flawed arguments

One of the parts of my research methods module assignment that I’m currently working on is being used to assess if we are able to read an academic paper and understand what it has set out to achieve. The paper in question comes from a reputable journal and has been peer-reviewed. Even so, it contains a fairly significant typographical error, which makes understanding precisely where some of the findings it claims have actually come from rather difficult.

However, that’s not the worst problem with this particular paper. The final sentence of its concluding paragraph makes a claim that I happen to believe (and I’m willing to bet that there is research available that will back the claim up) but there is absolutely no way that the specific claim made can be established from the paper’s research!

As I don’t want to specifically name this paper or journal (not least because it is an input into an assessed piece of work) let me try to explain the problem I have using a different example.

Suppose that I’m interested in determining if franchised car dealer servicing is better than that provided by an independent garage. So I study a number of independent garages (but no franchised ones) and find that they are able to service cars adequately and because of this, manage to stay in business and turn a profit.

I write all of this up, present descriptive statistics that suggests this is true but then conclude (with a smug A-ha!) “… but if only they were franchised car dealers they’d be able to service these cars even better”. I then note that the funding for my research came from the association of franchised car dealers.

In a nutshell, that’s the kind of flawed argument that this paper appears to be using, perhaps because of where its source of funding came from. Unfortunately, we’re not asked to critique the paper, simply to read and demonstrate that we’ve understood it. But I do hope we get the chance to properly critique some of the material we’re being presented with soon. The Open University and DD307 in particular has a lot to answer for …

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