So, why do research?

An academic journal fills a very important niche. In these modern times of instant information, the journals are far distant from being magazines for the learned to browse and now act as repositories for research findings, to be searched out by other researchers, policy makers and practitioners according to their need.

As an editor of an academic journal it therefore seems natural, particularly on a snowy day when all other activities have ground to a halt, to ponder the nature of why we do research in this discipline. There are of course many reasons, some noble and altruistic, but many of which are quite mundane and unglamorous. For some researchers the act of research is driven by the need to pay the bills. Universities value and indeed profit from the research achievements of their academic staff. This inevitably pressurizes staff to perform research activities in order to achieve or maintain academic tenure or attain promotion. Not really the motivation that the general public believes drives the earnest men and women in white coats.

At the end of the day, I do research because I love it. Most, if not all, of my colleagues feel the same. It is the part of my job that gets me up in the morning. To discover something new is the greatest buzz and to have that work published is an immense pleasure. To put myself at risk of being trite, I’d say if fulfills that basic human instinct to find out, to make a difference and make the world a better place.

For those of us in the nutrition and dietetics field there are other drivers. Research gives us the ability to formulate the critical knowledge and evidence base that allows public health interventions, dietetic treatment, behavior change strategies, disease prevention, pharmacological treatment and so many other innovations to happen. Some of is are practical people, searching for solutions to specific problems. Others are less applied and want to understand how things work, to pull apart the systems of the body, uncovering ever increasing levels of complexity. Research is the oil that drives the wheels of progress. The work done today will be the basis of the health measures of the 2020s and 2030s. The point cannot be overstated and as a still relatively young man (under 50 at any rate) I am amazed by how much of the routine established knowledge of today would have been fantasy in my undergraduate days.

Nutrition is a relatively young science, but sadly has attracted more than its fair share of problems. Bad science, flawed methods, conflated results, incorrect conclusions abound and form a nasty mix with the occasional bit of fraud and fakery and the plethora of quacks out to make a fast buck. Nutrition is however fundamental to understanding of health and disease. The church is broad and the abundance of literature vast. What nutrition and dietetics now needs is a robust underpinning, so whatever your motivation is for researching let your watchwords be QUALITY, TIMELINESS, RELEVANCE and yet more QUALITY.


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