Work interests: research, editing, ethnobotany, prehistory, plant genetics
Affiliation/website: National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka
Preferred contact method: Any
Preferred contact language(s): English, German
Contact: email = researchcooperative-at-gmail-dot-com
Favourite publications: Aroideana, Economic Botany, Farming Matters, PLoSOne
Affiliations: 1996-present: National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka. 1995: Freelance editor, Kyoto. 1994: JSPS Research Visitor, Kyoto University, Kyoto. 1993: Research Visitor, Australian National University, Canberra. 1991: Visiting Researcher, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka.1990: STA Fellow, National Institute for Ornamental Plants, Vegetables, and Tea (NIVOT), Ano, Japan
Contact: National Museum of Ethnology, Senri Expo Park, Suita City, Osaka, Japan 565-8511
Biographical: Established the Research Cooperative in 2001
Favourite Publications: Economic Botany, Ethnobotany Research and Applications, New Scientist, Minpaku Anthropology Newsletter, Archaeology in Oceania
Research cooperation: Yes? No?
Cooperation may be the lifeblood of scientific research, but individuals working in isolation can also make significant breakthroughs - in part because of their isolation. Freedom from distractions!
For most researchers though, some degree of cooperation with others is necessary in order to be employed by a university department or other organisation, and in order to obtain funds from granting agencies. This can go too far though - it may be comfortable to be agreeable and cooperative at all times with all people, but this may come at the expense of an effective focus on individual effort. Being agreeable can lead us into endless administrative time wasting, or into worthwhile work that is not our own, and which may not be fully acknowledged.
So what is the ideal balance, in our cooperative and individual approaches to research?
This has to depend on the character of each person, the character of the social and cultural context, and the character of the research intended. Medical science often depends, for example, on the existence of willing participants in clinical trials. Anthropology and many other field sciences cannot proceed without the agreement of local communities and land owners.
A theoretical mathematician may have the least need for cooperation, as far as the work itself is concerned, but is still a human being with human needs for social interaction and recognition of the value of the work. The great diversity of ways of approaching mathematics and finding inspiration for mathematical thinking may mean that mathematics, as a field, needs people who occupy the entire spectrum of social engagement - from extreme isolation to extreme cooperation.
A particular research project may also need to move from less cooperative to more cooperative phases, over time. The most simple example of this is when the individual working in isolation eventually seeks to publish a piece of work, and wishes to have it published in a peer-reviewed journal. The isolationist who remains isolationist when attempting to publish may find the process of publishing unpleasant because of the need to not offend journal editors and reviewers.
Not offending does not mean that agreeing with editors and reviewer is necessary. Critical and constructive argument about a submitted paper, and a certain amount of tension among all involved, are needed to raise not only the standards of writing, but also the standards of editing and review.
The publishing process is not a one-way-street with only the editors and reviewers in a position of power. Authors also have the power to choose where they try to publish, and should think carefully about their choices. Writing and publishing are also part of the research process. These activities bring us into contact with readers, and through our readers new opportunities for research and cooperation may arise.
Research, independence, interdependence, writing, publishing, reading, the ending of one project, and the beginning of another.... these are all intertwined, and become more so when research is pursued over many years. Possibilities for cooperation may grow faster than our ability to actually join new projects and interact with others effectively. There are times to say yes, and times to say no.
Which somehow makes me think of a Beatles song: "Hello, Goodbye".
The relationship of a scientist with his or her work must also have ups and downs. That's life, that's how science should be, and that's how this particular blog post should end.