Gap Spotting in research


So I just started my master’s degree and we were assigned a very interesting read this week (and no, im not looking for help on an assignment).

It discusses Gap Spotting, which is the dominant way of doing research in both the sciences and social sciences. Basically, Gap spotting uses pre-existing research and tries to poke holes in it, critique it in some way, or build upon it in order to come up with new data and findings. It looks for shortages in a theory, under-researched areas in existing literature or confusion within existing literature. In general, gap spotting does not produce new ideas nor does it challenge social norms. It mostly fails at creating interesting novel theories and yet it is by far the most dominant way of doing research today. Gap spotting provides more chances that your research will be published (as you’re inevitably propping up existing work and making friends doing so), and is more likely to receive funding, tenure and promotions as universities promote gap-spotting techniques. The politics behind research really seem to promote a recycling of ideas and staying within the bounds of social norms than it does rethinking the fundamentals that we all rely on. By using gap spotting, researchers avoid anything too controversial, which we know can upset people and go against your work being accepted and applauded, which in then becomes an economic incentive not to challenge fundamental ideologies in the sciences and social sciences.

What this article really brought to light for me was how biased so-called objective science can be. Politics are at play. Money is at play accreditation and personal gain are at play.

The alternative to this type of research is something called Problematization- and it is difficult, time consuming, and researchers are likely to be met with more resistance to their work being accepted and rewarded.

So what does this say about about bank of scientific knowledge? How do we go about NOT challenging the norms and regulations we are fed every day by the various scientific professionals we rely on, knowing there are very few of them out there challenging the norms we rely on and only going so far in creating novel research that could truly benefit and lead policy in better directions. If our science is led by the recycling of ideas and a fear of challenging norms, how can we really trust it? I think there’s always this assumption that science isn’t political and that it is founded in hard facts, but this article really highlights how so much of the research we use is indeed political and economically motivated.

The article in question here is Ways of Constructing Research Questions: Gap Spotting or Problematization?

Jorgen Sandberg and Mats Alvesson