A Researcher’s Lament: Fighting for What Works

Consider this: (1) a physician who consults the most recent edition of a medical journal for “best practices” in surgery and, (2) an attorney who consults the legislative minutes from a recent session for changes in criminal law. What do these two individuals have in common? Both the physician and the attorney seek to amend their occupational behavior through data-driven and evidence-based practices. Professions that explore how to economize and streamline their work efforts are most effective at delivering a product or service because they acknowledge the fluidity of their practice and see wisdom in change. The evolution of science, living on the edge of discovery, means looking for answers even when you don’t need them. No one would be expected to seek the counsel of an uninformed doctor no more than they would hire the lawyer who carries outdated knowledge of the law. This is accepted dogma in most cases. But it is also true that in many domains of work, the experienced layperson is disconnected from the labors of methodical evaluation. This is nowhere truer than in criminal justice. On one end is the figures the public is most intimate with, like law enforcement and correctional officers, judges, and district attorneys. These groups work to maintain order, practice the law, and reprimand those who violate that law. They build on in-field experience; experience that can only be built through apprenticeship-type relationships and the cultivation of in-depth site knowledge. On the other end of the criminal justice spectrum are those in academic, research-based fields, where the importance for theoretical axioms underpins conclusions and drives the direction of implications from such research. Clinicians may collect data and determine – based on an application of theory – the relationship between two things.