Posted by: mydarkestplaces | January 28, 2013

My intro to epidemiology

While a bit excessively intellectually curious (I recently wrote to a friend, “I WANT TO KNOW ALL THE THINGS!”) I am far from being an academic. Frankly, I don’t have the attention span to be an academic. The thought of sitting down in a library for three months is dreamy. The thought of taking what I’d learned over that three months in order to write a hundred page paper fills me with fear. More accurately I already feel my attention wandering and my sentences running on and veering off and…well. I have ADD. That should be clear to anyone who’s read my writing or had a conversation with me or, hey, look, shiny!

Per usual, this is a long lead in.

I may not be an academic, I may not ever be an academic, but I have a good idea of how scholarly research and writing should be done. This instinct says that if you’re writing an academic paper – if you are proposing scientific theories – then the studies and articles that you use to support your hypothesis should be written by people other than you.

It’s like defining a word using the word itself.

I cannot, for the life of me, remember how I came across this article, but come across it I did. I think I came across it while looking up information for the post that I wrote about Columbine. Research I did on my phone. Since the screen of the iPhone is about 2.2 inches small, I saved the article for a time when I could read it on a bigger screen.

I pulled it up on ye olde laptope and started reading. If you open the article you’ll see, within the first four paragraphs, citations galore. Citations that almost all include the author’s name. This sent me off on another train of research.

I was willing to concede that, if the author was breaking research barriers – if the author was researching things that had never been researched before – it would be less dodgy if she mostly referenced research that she was involved in. After all, if she’s the only person who has written research then there’s nobody else to cite. Naturally I turned to Professor Google to see what the opus looked like prior to the publication of Dr. Breslau’s paper.

I did a search for studies of PTSD by gender. I took down the names involved in studies from prior to 2007 – when Dr. Breslau’s paper was accepted. There were at least sixteen articles between the first two pages of results that were published prior to 2006 (when Dr. Breslau’s study was first submitted). With an average of three authors per study/article there were 38 names that Drs. Breslau and Anthony could have cited. I busted out the Ctrl+F function. I did a search for every name that I wrote down. Of those 38 names, four were cited in some way for this study.

<<Fast forward two hours from when I started writing this post to finishing writing this post>>

In response to my Facebook post saying, essentially, “Boy I wish I had studied qualitative and quantitative research methods in college,” one of my best friends from college responded, “Or you could just send it to your good friend who happens to be an epidemiologist.” So. Naturally. I did.

Heather is, hands down, one of the smartest women I know (saying a lot – I know a LOT of hella smart women). She has a PhD in epidemiology and is currently a post-doc fellow out in Pittsburgh. Which is to say, this is her wheelhouse.

We spent time emailing back and forth. As a (quasi-)trained historian, the idea of using my own ideas to support a thesis that I’m writing is…painful. It seems disingenuous and, a little bit, like cheating. It would be like me saying, “Well, I wrote a paper about this so obviously this new idea I’m putting forth is true.” However, my friend brought up an important point when it comes to epidemiology, “Epi is a science where each new paper is a new discovery. Each paper should build on the last.” In that context, I’ll allow Dr. Breslau’s (and evidently every other epidemiologist’s) modus operandi to stand. (<- I obviously have a lot to do with this decision?)

Ultimately, I’m not an academic, in particular I’m not an epidemiologist. But I guess as long as ideas are growing. As long as the fields of scholarly research are expanding. I can’t really complain if a PhD quotes themselves. They may not necessarily be smarter than me, but they’re certainly a hell of a lot more educated.

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