Watching pundits deploy other people’s research is like watching kids play with lit M80s: the best outcome to hope for is that nothing bad happens and it’s over quickly. Every other outcome is much, much worse.
Which is to say: Bret Stephens’ recent column for The New York Times citing a discredited study (cowritten by at least one author with white nationalist sympathies) advancing (as the Times’ correction put it) “a genetic hypothesis for the basis of intelligence” among Ashkenazi Jews is exceptional only in the stupidity of its cherry-picked research, not the fact that it cherry picked. Pundits don’t understand how research works. That’s why they cite individual studies as “proof” for their arguments, rather than surveying the state of the literature as a whole.
We expect researchers (unlike pundits) to be fair with their evidence and precise with their tools and materials — and when we don’t, we have lost the essential value of research. Fairness and precision are already part of the researcher’s POV and two of your natural advantages over pundits and everyone else who tries to use research to buttress their arguments. You are never going to make a mistake like Stephens’.
Your other natural advantage, though, is research-based insight; because you see broadly across the literature, your insights and recommendations can be far more convincing that that of the pundit. The mistake many researchers make when trying to lead non-specialists to think differently about a problem is that think “fair” and “precise” come at the expense of “argument” and “insight.” They write another paper instead of helping us see a new way forward.
You are already so much more precise than the rest of the world. Lean on your precision to make great arguments that can change lives — not to subvert the idea of making an argument.