Standing for Facts in 2017

I work in public health research, and so I travel in facts. In my work, and the work of my peers, facts mean truth, and that is our currency. Objective truth is our guiding light, and what we strive for above all else. We spend many, many, many hours debating conceptual validity, working slowly and methodically to find meaning in data. We acknowledge the deeply troubling, inequitable, discriminatory history of social science research, and how it has been used in the past to support policies and practices which co-opted so-called “facts” for their own purposes. This drives us to work twice as hard to measure all perspectives, in order to find accurate representation, and to always remember that the work is ultimately done in service to the community, and not for our benefit. When we are lucky, we are able to draw careful, conservative, evidence-based conclusions, and we see that as a real success, as we work to incrementally move this field forward.

I’ve never consciously thought of my job as working in politics. Yes, some components of my research may be used for advocacy purposes in the future, but that is not the focus of my work, nor the audience that drives me. Mainly, I evaluate school-based children’s initiatives– these are programs which are always underfunded, but generally considered noncontroversial.

But now the research that I do has become political. I would venture that this week all research in this country became inherently political. To stand for reason, for measure, for evidence and truth, has never felt like a radical act. But it is now.

I wrote the following about a week ago, and it already feels like it’s from a different time: “To abandon facts is to allow others to construct your reality. They will color the world as they desire, tell you what it means, and prompt you to parrot it back. Repetition makes it real. Rejecting facts accelerates our loss of reason and erodes our freedoms, and I would venture that this happens much more quickly than we can even conceive.”