09 October 2011

When Worlds Collide

For the past year or so I have been working with folks who regularly publish in the leading health journals and with the editors of those journals. It has been an eye-opening experience.

Now I am used to working with those from a public health background--I have an undergrad degree with joint honours in Food Science and Food Economics--and one of my PhD supervisors, Prof. Reynaldo Martorell is a leading light in Public Health Nutrition. But nothing could prepare me for this parallel universe.

Some examples:

* having my writing described as "so ugly" by a health reviewer -- OK it's more prose than poetry, but come on..
* being a part of a systematic review that surveyed 14000 papers and came up with 3 that met the inclusion criteria--and that, apparently, is OK!
* having to define "development" as an "intervention"
* trying to write a very wide ranging paper in 3000-4000 words because readers of these journals will not tolerate more (why not?)
* having been told my paper is going before a "hanging panel" (gulp)
* being surprised to be on a list of authors for a paper just because I contributed a few ideas
* being listed at the end of the long list of authors on a paper because this is what the grand old men and women are put

I have to say I have learned an enormous amount too:

* about the strengths and weaknesses of systematic reviews and meta analyses
* about malaria (why don't more social scientists work on it?)
* that re-reviews of systematic review papers are rarely done (why not?)
* about how complex our development language is to those outside development (complexity fundamentalism versus the epidemiological fundamentalism of the health research community)

And, most importantly, about how health can add value to understanding development and vice versa. In fact this is the theme of the special series of papers we are hoping to publish simultaneously in a leading health journal and in a leading development journal (and the working title of the series is the title of this blog).

I will keep you updated on this interplanetary journey.


Eeshani Kandpal said...

Great post. Interdisciplinary research can be rewarding (and frustrating, as you note so eloquently), but can also be sadly undervalued in tenure review.

I would love to hear what you learned about malaria, and where, in particular, social scientists might make valuable contributions.

Daniel Esser said...

Dear Lawrence,

Reading your recent blog post made me realize that you might be interested in the current supplement of JIAS:


I also had an article in the August issue of World Development that bridges health and political research:


Daniel E. Esser, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of International Development
School of International Service | American University