Careful readers of this blog (hi Mum!) will know that I like to knit. Knitters often talk about whether they are “product” knitters, who want the object that results from a knitting project, or “process knitters” who just enjoy the activity and don’t care whether they finish things. (People who know me—again, hi Mum—will be unsurprised to know that I’m more on the product side.)
I was thinking about whether there’s an equivalent of “process versus product” for research (here is a nice discussion of the same in teaching). A simplistic view would be that the product of scientific research is a publication (book, article, report, etc) and the process is all of the stuff that happens before the publication is, well, public. (This is related to the idea that “doing research” and “writing it up” are two different things, although personally I see writing as informing the research process and not completely separate from it.) Seen this way, most people in academia would likely say that they knew someone who was a “process researcher”: someone who is great at designing or doing or analysing experiments but terrible about turning them into publications. Being a “product researcher” could also be problematic if it means that one is tempted to cut corners on the process, since then the product is suspect.
But I wonder: is the publication the product? Or is “new knowledge” or “better understanding” or just “I know a thousand things that won’t work” (h/t Edison) the product? Is it science if you don’t (or can’t, because of publication bias) tell anyone what you have learned? Adam Savage says you have to write it down but that could argued to describe record-keeping, not publication. I think I’m leaning towards the “new knowledge” as opposed to “publication” description of the science product. Given that, I think most researchers must be both process and product researchers: the process takes too long and involves too much tedium for it to be the only joy, but the product is so fleeting and elusive that the process must be at least somewhat fun. What do you think?