Oh dear it has been nearly a month since I last posted, sadly the combination of marking, tutorial preparation and my day job in clinical practice got the better of my good intentions! However I will be reducing my clinical hours from the beginning of March so intend to catch up on writing then.
I did have a blog post brewing, inspired by a piece in the Moldovan media, but (much like the early days of my PhD) I kept finding myself wandering down lots of intellectual side roads with it and losing focus somewhat. However last weekend I came across some media reports, again in Moldovan online media, which whilst interesting in their own right also raised more general questions for me about the reporting of statistics and research findings in the media. One of the academic blogs I like to read is by Dr Petra Boynton who is meticulous in detailing the shortcomings of media reporting of research findings, and in particular the sloppy way in which research is evaluated beforehand. One of the issues she frequently encourages of journalists is to ask questions about the research – rather than accepting it at face value, question the methods and the findings. Can the conclusions be justified given the methods, what (if any) are the shortcomings of the research, how have the figures quoted been reached?
Last week I noticed a few articles on some Moldovan media sites reporting that “the majority of young people in Moldova have prostituted themselves at least once” (Unimedia). The reports (also repeated here by ProTV) use the words “shocking” and “scandalous” and at first glance seem to imply that 70% of Moldovan women have prostituted themselves. The source for this figure is a quote from French media from the Scelles Foundation, a coalition of NGOs in France working in the area of sex trafficking and exploitation. Their president was reported here as saying “In Moldova for example, an extremely poor country, 70% of women between 15-25 have prostituted themselves at least once”. However, the ProTV article above states that the research being cited was actually saying that 70% of Moldovan prostitutes are between the ages of 15-25, which is considerably different. I am encouraged that, unlike much of the media according to Dr Petra Boynton’s blog or French media going by the Europe1 article quoted above, the Moldovan media is showing at least at a basic level of understanding of the need to get the facts right behind the statistics and not twist them (there were a number of times during my PhD when I was doing my media review when I despaired of what I was reading, so this was encouraging to see). There is understandable outrage at the misquoting of the statistics (and perhaps misquoting of the Scelles Foundation president?) to imply something very negative about Moldovan women, something which is also discussed in this Vox Publika article, albeit with a rather stereotypical and idealistic alternative presentation of Moldovan women. That article also points out what I had found when I had a poke round the Scelles Foundation site, which is that the original report/research on which the 70% figure is supposedly based is nowhere to be found. It does not say where or when or who was interviewed/surveyed to come up with these figures, or what methods were used, so there is no way at all of verifying or questioning them.
What I think this shows is that, as well as the responsibility of the media to report research responsibility and accurately, it is important for those of us wishing to disseminate our research to ensure that it is accessible, and not open to blatant misinterpretation.
I realise I haven’t said much here about the biggest bit of research I have done to date, namely my PhD thesis. It is a qualitative study of sexual and reproductive health in Romania and the Republic of Moldova, looking primarily at the contexts in which sexual and reproductive health services are provided and the barriers and opportunities identified by people working in this area in a number of sectors (state medical, voluntary sector, international donor, etc). The thesis also incorporated a review of media coverage in the two countries around sexuality, reproduction and sexual and reproductive health. I chose to work in Romania and Moldova for initially quite practical reasons (I speak the language, and had previous contacts and experience in both countries), with the focus on health reflecting my professional background in nursing. The end result is very different from my original research proposal, which was much more rooted in social policy, mainly as a result of the eventual decision to focus more specifically on sexual and reproductive health. This led me down a number of fascinating roads, relating to gender, nationalism, sexuality, religion and morality alongside the original health/policy focus, and caused me to reflect towards the end of the process that the thesis chose me as much as the other way round – I don’t think I could have got as passionate and committed to my originally proposed research as I did to the thesis as it ended up.
The thesis itself can be found in the University of Glasgow thesis repository – this link is to the thesis abstract and the thesis is accessible from there (pdf format). I chose not to place the thesis under embargo, as I have decided that although I do think there is an academic book in me somewhere I feel that practically it would make more sense to concentrate on writing shorter journal articles for now. I am planning on reducing my clinical hours in the new year so I can spend some time writing a number of articles drawn from this thesis, in order both to try to make my list of publications more attractive to potential employers, and to give me the opportunity to write in depth about a number of quite random and disparate issues which although of considerable interest could only be touched upon briefly in the thesis itself. One of the advantages of my thesis and its findings is that it is applicable in a number of academic fields – sociology, public health, development studies, area studies, social policy, gender studies, media studies/discourse analysis as well as qualitative research methodology and other academic sub-areas (sociology of health and illness being a particularly obvious one) – which means that I have a number of articles on several different topics just waiting to be written. One of the disadvantages of that is that I could write for journals which are important and high-impact in one discipline but which for other disciplines are much less relevant and impactful, so over the next couple of months I am going to sit down and plan a strategy for prioritising my writing. As for that book – well, I have ideas for a future research project which I think would ultimately lend itself much more easily to an academic monograph. The other priority for next year is to investigate possible funding for that future research, something else which having more publications under my belt will help, of course.
Yesterday via the #phdchat discussion on Twitter I came across a blog post where the author summarised his work in 100 words. That is a challenge I might think about for a future post, as I know one of my writing problems is not using 1 word when 10 will do!