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Being Devil’s Advocate – Searching for Credible Evidence


When is research ‘credible’?

How and when is research really valid? Put another way, if I surveyed a group of language learners in Second Life, and asked them whether learning a language in virtual worlds has been a positive experience for them (with a good number of questions, including a few ‘triangulating’ ones thrown in), who is really to know what they really said? I mean, there could be 100 questionnaires sent out, and I may just get back about 99, rather conveniently, saying that SL is great for language learning. See the problem? Well, I may just make it up (I won’t, and I’m not planning to – just for the record). But how can I convince the ‘readers’ that the responses have not been ‘slightly adjusted’?

Is this what they mean by a refereed paper? Do the referees check each one of those 99 responses, to make sure I haven’t made it up? What really happens in other fields, medicine, law, marine biology? That is, in fields which are a matter of life and death? Mind you, learning a second language may just become a matter of life and death, when you find yourself in an awkward situation in a foreign land!?

So the questions is, how do we know, when we find an article, say in Google Scholar or ProQuest, that it is valid research? Is it due to professional integrity that we take it at for granted that it is ‘the truth’? This question is for both primary and secondary research results. Just because something is ‘published’, does it mean it is valid?

I’ve brought it up because I’ll be researching this topic, the topic of learning languages in virtual worlds. I can’t help but admit my ‘bias’. If I ask other language teachers, who are currently teaching in MUVEs, about teaching in virtual worlds, they say more or less the same thing. If I ask students, who are currently learning languages in MUVEs, about learning in virtual worlds, well, they say pretty much the same thing – that it’s pretty damn good! I might as well pack up and go, and maybe even publish my findings now….Where’s the credibility? How do I achieve it? Any suggestions?

  1. 01/09/2011 4:23 pm

    Interesting post.

    I wonder if ‘credibility’ is in essence just another social construct.. I envisage that it would be possible to ‘engineer’ credibility for a paper that otherwise might be dismissed out-of-hand, if it was forcefully published through certain channels..?

    Conversely, I imagine that an otherwise ‘credible’ paper could be discredited through applied political or financial pressure by vested interests .. the conflagration surrounding the meddling of the US Government in the findings of Climate Scientists in the US (during the Bush presidency) might be an example of such a phenomenon.

    • 01/09/2011 6:10 pm

      Couldn’t agree more. It’s a fine line between ‘credible’ and ‘conspiracy’.

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