Trusting people
March 6, 2010 12:46 PM   Subscribe

How do I evaluate people when I know little about the field, their particular motivations, and material is sensitive to me? Trying to keep this simple, but it's inherently complicated.

One of my parents passed away suddenly a couple of years ago. At the time they passed, they were doing research in a field that's politically sensitive and highly controversial. The work is of interest to a number of different organizations, both NGO and otherwise.

I have all my parents' research, I know a bit about the field and its' dynamics (well more than a layperson, but not at a professional level).

I'm trying to find someone who can take this work and run with it.

I have the names of a couple of people who I can talk to about it, but I'm having trouble moving forward for a number of reasons:

1) There are a lot of well-meaning people in the field, and a lot of people who actually get things done. Identifying who falls into which group is tough.

2) My biggest fears are:
* Giving the research to someone and then seeing no result as they sit on it.
* Giving the research to someone and then seeing them use it for purposes that aren't aligned with what my parent believed in.

3) Surviving parent, while partially in the picture, isn't in a position to offer much other than some general parental support - my relationship with them hasn't been great since my teenage years.

I have trust issues in general, and an overdeveloped need to take responsibility and control of things around me. This is a huge step. Losing this parent was an incredibly heavy blow to me, and combination of grief and responsibilities put upon me were a big part of why my marriage fell apart.

Doing something with this research has been a huge burden that I'm only able to face up to now. I'm terrified of passing it to someone and regretting the result later.

I'm not quite sure what I'm asking for at this point, other than perhaps some general advice and some input as to how you might go about proceeding. I'm not always great at reading people, which contributes a lot to my general suspicions. The green has always been a good source of opinion. :)

Throwaway email is
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Doing something with this research has been a huge burden that I'm only able to face up to now. I'm terrified of passing it to someone and regretting the result later.

You have no way of making sure that someone "does something" with the research your parent left behind. Short of becoming a schollar and doing it yourself, what you are contemplating is dependent upon finding another scholar whose interests are aligned with the work of your parent, who is competent to continue the work, who is willing to do the work, etc. Unless you are so wealthy that you can hire and pay competent scholars to do the work, I don't think there is any way you can control whether the work is continued.
posted by jayder at 1:48 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are there people your parent worked with who can either take on the research themselves or guide you to the right person? Are there people who have published papers in this area espousing ideas or values similar to your parent's? I would start there.

Or would it be possible to make this data public so that in can facilitate many people's research, thus relieving you of the decision?

Disclaimer: I don't do research for a living.
posted by cider at 1:50 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

And frankly, if I were a researcher approached by you, I would have serious misgivings about getting involved with a project that will apparently be overseen by a person who knows "well more than a layperson, but not at a professional level" and who is obviously emotionally invested in the work.

You would sound like trouble, to me.

I would suggest compiling a list of suitable people, contacting them and letting them know what you have, and inviting them to continue the research. If nothing comes of it, then it is unforunate ... but I would let it go, or take it upon myself to become the person who is capable of continuing the work.
posted by jayder at 1:52 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Assuming that your one-off description of the research and the people who do that research is accurate, then the answer here is really quite simple.

You acknowledge that you don't have enough expertise in the field to finish the research yourself. That's the first step in letting go.

You have the names of some people who could possibly do what you want. Maybe one or the other of them would be able and willing to do it, maybe not. But these people should be able to put you in touch with other people in the field, as you search for just that right person.

Since you have some knowledge in the field, you should be able to evaluate the work of these researchers, both in terms of the quality of their work and their alignment with your parent's outlook. Only you know how hard it will be for you to actually let go when you find the right person.

But, like (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates, perhaps I'm missing something here. Or perhaps your deep-seated mistrust of other people is making it hard for you to explain this clearly enough that we can respond to it with any confidence. Or perhaps you don't want to turn the research over to someone else no matter what anyone here says.
posted by DrGail at 1:53 PM on March 6, 2010

In most fields today, people have collaborators that they trust. They usually have graduate student/mentees among them. Often, these are named co-authors on their papers. Your surviving parent should know who these people are-- find them and talk with them about what to do. If surviving parent doesn't know, surely there are people who came to the funeral, who wrote about the death, who are in the department and you see them mentioned in the work, that your parent will have had that kind of a relationship with.
posted by Maias at 2:27 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe what I have to say was too obvious to be spoken, but-

Identifying people who get things done, academically, seems extremely straightforward to me. People who get things done publish all the time and get a lot of grant money.

Since you are familiar with this field, you probably have an idea of which organizations provide grants in this area. It should be easy to find out who the grants are going to, that's often publicized.

Also you have access to any databases of academic journals? (If not, you could go to the nearest university and see if the librarians there would help you). You can do searches to see who publishes most often on this topic. And when you do that, you can read what you write and see how it aligns with what your parent was trying to do.

Secondly, have you gone through your parent's things to see the people w/ whom he/she collaborated or communicated with most often? What about writing to those people and asking for their opinions?

Finally- do you have to give the work to just one person? What prevents you from making copies of it and giving it to a bunch of different people?
posted by Ashley801 at 2:35 PM on March 6, 2010

If I was in your situation, I would realize that this doesn't have to be my obsession. Your question is about how to handle passing on research when you're a layperson (as I read it, at least), but the underlying issue here seems to be your "overdeveloped need to take responsibility and control of things around me" and your grief.

If I were you, I would try to detach the fate of this research from all of the things you're conflating it with- your parent's legacy, your responsibility to your parent, the fate of the world (as evidenced by your concern that this information is "politically sensitive" and will be put to the wrong uses), and your trust issues. Therapy, that old AskMe standard, could help. Again, if I were you, the best way to start this process would be to identify someone who could take control of the research- the library of a university your parent was connected to, an academic who holds similar beliefs to your parent, whoever or whatever. maybe they make it publicly available, maybe they let it molder on a shelf, maybe they take it and run with it. The main thing is to realize that there is no reason this has to be your fight. This was your parent's work, not yours. This is an unfair question, but would your parent want you to agonize and stress yourself out and ruin your life over this, or would they want you to damn the research and take care of yourself first?
posted by MadamM at 2:35 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are a couple ways you could approach this.

You could crowd source it. Basically using ask-mefi to say, "My late parent did work in Toast Buttering Theory (which is probably safe to use as an example since I'm pretty sure that isn't it), I have all their research notes and what not. Does anyone out there know of people who are doing work in that field that might actually get something done with this information?"

Or you could just throw it to the wind and know that in the great battle between truth and making shit up, truth almost always wins. I have done some theoretical work in my quaint little niche. None of what I'm doing is any kind of secret. I'm just examining sum of a bunch of known phenomenon and comparing the theoretical outcome, the expected outcome and the real outcome. In May my corporate master will be flying me to San Francisco where I will take all this and just give it away (look for a Meetup request in April). People who want to use it to improve the quality of the drugs they're making will. People want to use it as a new kind of hand waving to distract the FDA will.

If you're a serious about your research you have to be faithful to the truth but you also have to know that, no matter how faithful you are, some one will come along and misinterpret your work. (Sometimes through simple confusion and sometimes with wankerishness in their hearts.)

There is one other thing you ought to be aware of. If you have a document that's ready for publication, that's one thing. But looking at someone else's notes and reconstituting their work from that is hard. How hard? I was going through some calculations for the presentation I am doing and found myself asking, "What the fuck?" about once a minute for about half an hour before I worked everything out. That's with my work and mt calculations from a few months ago.

Looking at someone else's work, cold, may not be all that useful since it may take more time to figure out what they were doing than to just do the work yourself. (Your mileage may vary depending on the field and what not.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:48 PM on March 6, 2010

While you can't control what happens to the research once you pass it on, you can be selective about who you give it to, and it sounds like this is what is causing the most stress. Two suggestions: 1. Make a copy of everything, and keep the original. If something goes awry, you would have the option of sharing it with someone else. 2. Who did your parent work with? Collaborators, colleagues, mentors, and students are the people you want to consider and they can probably guide you in the right direction. Whose work did your parent respect the most? I would start with that person and go from there. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 3:26 PM on March 6, 2010

If the research is politically sensitive, you are right to be concerned. Find someone you CAN trust to advise you. Did your parent have a mentor? Some author they often quoted? A thinktank or nonprofit group that they worked with? Academics and activists usually travel in cohorts. Find someone from your parent's cohort to help you navigate the politics.

As for the question of getting it done, that comes out of the expectations you set and the way you write the contract. It is also overall a bit less tricky, so trust your instincts there.

Good luck!
posted by salvia at 7:29 PM on March 6, 2010

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