"Progress in science arises from the application of an informed imagination to a problem of genuine consequence; not by the monotonous application of some formulaic mode of inquiry to a set of quasi-problems."
-Daniel Robinson, Paradigms and "the myth of framework"
A faculty member teaching the empirical inquiry class that I am enrolled in this semester shared that quote with us this week as a foundation for a discussion about research and how we can make decisions about the types of questions and problems we tackle in our work. We also discussed the importance of avoiding the tendency of shying away from difficult questions, even though they may be the most important questions we could seek to answer. Too often researchers choose to address "easy" questions because of the promise of publications, a longer vitae, etc.
This is all a fine line because judgments about what constitutes "problems of genuine consequence" are very subjective and probably only appropriate for individual researchers to make. However, that practice of examining the impact of our work seems appropriate and needed. We have all seen examples of research that addresses quasi-problems and that is only read by the researcher, his mother (although she probably doesn't understand it), and a close circle of professional colleagues; I won't take any time to describe what I believe might fall into those categories. But, I have seen a number of excellent examples of "good" research here on my campus (Brigham Young University) that I believe makes a tremendous contribution to the body of scholarly work. More importantly, these projects seem to have been initiated and carried out because of the promise that they hold for improving human lives. Below are some links to just a few:
The merry-go-round that makes electricity from kid power
More nutritious tortillas – BYU research team shares method with Mexico’s neighborhood tortilla shops