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WORKING WITH INTEGRITY AS A COPENHAGEN BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENT: Biased Research

Biased Research

Biased research is the practice of searching, selecting, and presenting literary sources, not for the different insights and perspectives that they may bring to a paper but for the sole purpose of confirming a hypothesis.

No absolute truths

Everybody loves to be right, in life and in work. In academia, however, being right is not necessarily the primary concern. Academic research is driven by the quest for new insights and a deeper understanding of the world, a quest that never ends and, perhaps more importantly, does not have as its end goal some final truth.

Academia is a community

It is also not a solitary and one-off project, which can be accomplished by any one individual. It is a joint effort that involves multiple stakeholders across an academic community.

Standing on the shoulders of giants is a metaphor that is often used to describe the way that knowledge progresses; new insights are rarely the result of one person´s work in isolation but often builds on the work of people who came before. In turn, these new insights will become part of the shared pool of knowledge, from which new research can then draw inspiration. This exchange is never-ending and can take many shapes and forms, from confirmation to qualification to outright rejection of the premises and findings of past research.

Findings are typically published in books and scholarly journals, which then represent what can be known about a phenomenon at any given moment in time.

Understanding this dynamics is essential. As a CBS student, you need to understand how this literature works. Otherwise, you may miss the big picture and get lost in your search for some preconceived notion of truth.

Curiosity does not kill

Your main task is not to come up with new and original ideas. Rather, a big part of your academic training is to navigate the existing pool of knowledge about a given topic and identify relevant contributions that have something meaningful to say. These sources will help you corroborate, contextualize, query, or put into perspective your own assumptions and understanding about what is important about the topic.

When embarking on this kind of exploratory study of existing research it is vital to approach the task with an equal measure of humility, open-mindedness, and generosity. Humility, because you may not understand all possible aspects of the research field in all their details. Open-mindedness, as any honest inquiry will accept that not everyone will agree about what is important and somebody may in fact disagree with you in ways that challenge your current views. Generosity, because even such divergent positions deserve a voice and should not be conveniently ignored because they fail to fit a pattern that you have already settled on.

It may be easy enough to identify three articles that tend to agree with you and can help you corroborate your findings but if you are not alert and meticulous you may miss 100s of articles that disagree or present alternative views, and in fact, these may make for a much more interesting discussion. So do not limit yourself to that part of research that agrees with you or supports your hypothesis. Seek out and include alternative voices as well. Consider this an opportunity to showcase your analytical and pragmatic skills rather than a defeat of ideas.   

Truth is contextual, and multiple truths may coexist. It is your job to navigate this complexity.  

Three things to consider

  • be mindful of the difference between central, established positions in a research community and peripheral, emerging ones. Whereas fringe ideas and controversial approaches may be interesting in isolation, and serve as important examples of alternative voices, they may also be just that: marginal and contended. As such, it would be wrong to present them as if they represent widely held, consensus views in the research community. 
  • do not confine yourself, when searching a database, to the specific words or concepts you have learned in class or initially used to frame your research question as this may give rise to tunnel vision. Important contributions may use different vocabulary to describe the same phenomenon and it is important to keep this in mind.
  • take your time. You are not likely to find results that perfectly match your idea of what you need immediately. So start out with some broad, generic queries and then slowly make your way into the particulars of your research interest by scanning intermediary results and letting them inform your next steps. This will allow you to see important or interesting content that would otherwise have been invisible because you were not expecting it and therefore not looking for it.   

Section Author

Joshua Kragh Bruhn - jkb.lib@cbs.dk