Someone -- a scientist -- recently told me to be careful about how and when I use the word "research" because this word has negative connotations for some people, particularly politicians and others who might make negative decisions about funding for certain activities that involve certain people at institutions of higher education in the United States.
Research is a bad word? Research?
Research is a search for knowledge. Through research, we discover things. We solve problems. We invent new things. Research implies that the search for knowledge is somewhat systematic, but only in a broad sense. Research is learning. These are good things.
Research isn't always used as a force for good, of course, and it can be warped, politicized, and done poorly, but that doesn't mean the concept itself is flawed or that there is anything wrong with the word. If that were the case, we should also stop using words like "government", "religion", and "faculty meeting".
What is a better alternative to the phrase "I do research"? I am not making this up, but in this same conversation, I was told that some people apparently prefer more friendly statements, like "I do stuff".
Speaking from my elitist ivory tower liberal professorial outpost, "I do stuff" just sounds stupid to me as a job description. Also, it's a bit vague, covering everything from cleaning out your closets (something I do every 7 years, whether they need it or not) to determining the structure of material using a synchrontron.
I suppose I should not be surprised about this, given that we are in the era of "This was not intended as a factual statement", "fair and balanced", and deliberate misunderstanding of fundamental scientific phenomena.
Nevertheless, as a researcher (or stuff-doer, if you prefer), I don't think the useful word "research" should be considered a scary, elitist, or liberal word. It's a slippery slope from vilifying a word to undermining the concept, to the ultimate benefit of no one.
It seems to me that some of the same people who don't like the word "research" also get upset at the thought that the US might be out-competed by others in technological advances. Technological advances come mostly from research (except the ones kindly provided by friendly pink unicorns).
Research is essential to the health, happiness, and security of us all, so we need to keep doing it, and/or stuff, and calling it what it is (and funding it).
7 years ago