Erroneous because of how the researchers defined their study. Erroneous because no red flags were raised about the moral, ethical and factual validity of the study by any one of a number of role players who are meant to do so, to the point that I am dumb struck.
The research project; “Age and education related effects on cognitive functioning in coloured South African women,” assessed the cognitive function and its association with age and education. The study is flawed for a number of reasons.
It is a ridiculously tiny sample. Only 60 women took part in the study, a small sample group by any standard but especially in light of the claims the study purported. The title, abstract and introduction infer that the results are applicable to all “Coloured South African women.” To add insult to injury, the women, who were between 18 and 64 years of age, were all from the same area.
Furthermore the authors use the apartheid racial designation ‘Coloured’ incorrectly and suggest that these communities are a homogeneous class. I cannot fathom how this study passed through all of the checkpoints a scientific study has to go through without as much as a single flag being raised in the bastions of Stellenbosch University (SU). To me this raises questions about the levels of bias and stereotypes still entrenched in the scientific community.
The study was funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF). To qualify for the funding a study proposal is assigned to two or three reviewers for scrutiny. Their evaluation is then presented to a panel who further scrutinize the proposal before making recommendations to the NRF board, who make the final call on whether or not funding is approved.
To err is human, which is why further checks are in place. Each university has a research committee. This committee, which is generally comprised of experienced and emerging researchers, verifies the scientific integrity of every proposal prior to submission for research purposes at the university.
Once the proposal has passed through this check it then has to go through another committee, the Ethics Committee. A panel assesses the proposal based on the moral and ethical fiber of the intended research. This is an especially vigorous vetting process when human participants are involved. If a university does not have an ethics committee, scientists can submit their proposal to the Ethics Committee of another university in order to receive an ethics certificate allowing the
research to continue.
When the time finally arrives to submit the research paper for publication, the editor of the academic journal will first send the manuscript to two or three reviewers for comment. Based on their comments and recommendations and the opinion of the editor the paper will be published or rejected.
So again, I must ask the question, “How did this study make it through all of these checks? Did no one sitting on one of those boards or committees find the study flawed?
As a Citizen of the Scientific Community, I signed a petition demanding the withdrawal of the study. At the same time other members of the Scientific Community defended the study pointing to the fact that similar studies had been conducted in South Africa.
Does it make it right that this is not the first study of its sort?
Just because the NRF approved funding for the research to continue does that mean that the research is morally and ethically correct?
The human race is fraught with prejudice and bias, are we not?
Even someone with a moral backbone has the potential of straying from their conscience, do they not?