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Strictly Speaking



In scientific parlance, research came into usage to denote a process of structured inquiry involving experiments designed to test a hypothesis as part of a system designed to admit certain possibilities for further (not farther) consideration as theories, and in which theories remain until better theories appear, often as a result of new observations not embraced by existing theories.

In academics a distinction exists between a literature search, which means looking up what already exists in the scientific literature, and research. A literature search cites what is presumed to be currently known; research deals with what is not yet known, but which the researcher hopes that experiments will reveal. In short, research produces previously unknown data, facts or insights into the natural world.

Applying this narrow definition, the broader use of the word, as in research on the internet, attempts to dignify a process as more involved or structured or informative than the origin sense of the word intended. This is not a matter of evolution of language, but of devaluation of a rigorous process by extending the use to a highly informal one.

As regards research on the internet, unless restricted to peer-reviewed journals, the the process suffers from inclusion of material that is more often wrong than it is correct, and inclines toward separating the putative “researcher” from his or her hard-earned dollar.

At issue is the specificity of a word that is being stretched so that everyone with a computer can pretend to be a Ph.D. Even scholarly studies in comparative literature and history can’t be called research if the sources they turn up, however rare or forgotten or concealed, are already in existence at the time their search begins. Even so there are the matters of validation and reproducibility at issue with all matters where personal records, not instrumental readings, are cited.

The phenomenon in usage may be general. If another word were invented that were more demanding and specific and factual than the word research denotes or connotes, there would certainly be a word-grab to glom onto and deploy it in everyone’s arsenal of arguments, aiming, as the common australism puts it, to disclose, “the true facts.” Read More 
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