Five reasons why research matters to non-academics

By Julia Slater

Research is all around us whether we are aware of it or not. While controversy has always made international headlines, I like to think that the thousands of sound scientific studies outweigh the not so reproducible or peer-reviewed.

As a non-academic myself, I’ve been swayed by the incredible power research has in informing and influencing my choices in everyday life, my purchases as a consumer, boosting my mental health, and assessing my ballot choices.

Here are my top five reasons, in no particular order, why research matters to me:

1.       Research incites change. Something as simple as the finding that handwashing with clean water and antiseptics provides measurable defenses to disease, some as extreme as a noroviruses as found in this 2008 study, are instrumental to our daily lives. This research is so compelling it is taught to toddlers while they are potty training, and even I can recall hand hygiene being taught to my third-grade class during health week much like how UNICEF adopted a social marketing campaign for hand hygiene for children in Malawi. This well-known finding illustrates the profound impact of scientific research.    

2.       Research ignites important conversations. Social media has become the wild west of thought expression, but it has also been a forum for earnest discussion. The research in our news that is shared, liked, and commented on influence international zeitgeist, political campaigns, and can give some explanation as to why we post so many selfies. Our conversations, our viral challenges, can actually guide further research, such as this study that looks into why we post contribute to viral trends such as “ghost riding the whip.”

3.       Research improves health and wellbeing. Incredibly, research is still needed to prove misunderstandings of vital medical practices, and we are continuing to fight the stigma surrounding mental health, but regardless of our cultural or political differences, reproducible, peer-reviewed research greatly informs our health practices and steers us toward healthier, happier lives. Research has even found that happy marriages lower the risk of mortality! What’s that saying?    

4.       Research drives us toward social equity. Important conversations have begun worldwide, but particularly in the United States, about discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and race. Thousands of studies pertaining to the real-world impact of daily discrimination provides scientific validity to marginalized voices. Check out our site that features decades of social research on sexual harassment.    

5.       Research aids us in detecting fact from fiction. The abundance of disinformation available makes me yearn for the time when identifying a headline from The Onion was instantaneous compared to our current era of herding views with clickbait. Disinformation is arguably a trending topic across academia as the literature in studying its impact as grown such as in this review of academic articles pertaining to fake news and misinformation.

Research allows us to progress and reflect upon our successes and disasters as a species. While I may not be able to identify what sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia* is immediately, there are resources like Kudos, that can help translate these findings to me in a meaningful way. So go on and read those abstracts with me!

(*It is the term for ice cream headache by the way)