December 4, 2022

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Researchers who work on controversial topics are not actors

Researchers who work on controversial topics are not actors

  • Marty Mangset

    Associate Professor at the Center for Professional Studies, Oslo Mitte

  • Arnfinn Midtbøen

    Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Geography, University of Oslo

  • Kjersti Thorbjørnsrud

    Researcher in the Department of Social Research

  • Udon Vladmo

    Researcher in the Department of Social Research

The authors of the posts wrote: We were interested in how researchers in different disciplines and fields of research gain different experiences and opinions with public publication.

We agree that one must be careful about drawing general conclusions about the research community. It is also central to our study.

debate
This is the topic of discussion. Opinions expressed in the text are at the author’s expense.

Professors Sven J. Holtsmark and Toron Logan Haaland at the Norwegian Defense College criticize the Kirolf Commission in a column in Aftenposten on April 18. Investigation on academic freedom of expression. They also criticize the foundation of our foundation Report “Researchers and the Public – On Freedom of Expression in Academia” which is based on a survey among Norwegian researchers.

Low scanning response rate

The report presents new empirical knowledge and has limitations that are important to highlight. However, our failure to account for ‘methodological biases’ is not correct.

exactly the contrary.

The report focuses in particular on how researchers who deal with controversial topics of great interest in the media distinguish themselves from others, and on the factors that contribute to gaining media attention as being particularly demanding.

Holtsmark and Haaland correctly indicated that the survey has a low response rate and that the sample is not statistically random. In order to reach as many people as possible, we sent the survey through the unions where a high percentage of Norwegian researchers are organized.

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However, many unions have a majority of members who do not do research. Thus, the survey was sent out to much more than the survey intended. Only those who were actually researchers were asked to click on the questionnaire itself. Thus, the response rate based on the number of mailings is misleading.

Medical researchers are the ones who communicate the least

Holtsmark and Halland are also correct that researchers from different disciplines are represented differently in the sample. This sample bias is thoroughly explained in the report along with other characteristics of the respondents.

In our analyses, it is also a key point for comparing different subject areas and examining how researchers from different backgrounds differ from each other. Of the total sample (1512 people), half of them stated that they had published in the media in recent years.

Sociologists are looking for more than this. Those looking into gender and immigration are reaching out more often. Researchers in medicine, technology, and science are the ones who report being less connected.

Fear of simplification in the media

Holtsmark and Haaland are concerned that researchers working on controversial topics are not necessarily representative. They’re right, and a key finding of the report is that those who research topics that can create particularly strong feedback are more careful about communication.

We find that survey sociologists, especially researchers in the field of gender and migration, fear to a greater extent than others simplifications in the media where nuances and reservations do not emerge.

We agree with Holtsmark and Haaland that one should be careful about drawing general conclusions about the research community based on our study. We have been interested in how researchers in different disciplines and fields of research gain different experiences and opinions about public publication.

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