A different kind of research

If you had a few thousands dollars and the support of a world-renowned institution, what would you do research on? Football? Sexy Jewish theater?

If you know me, you know that I’m not an overly-critical guy. I’m pretty laid back on how people live their lives and do with their lives and the opportunities they’ve been given. Sure, once in a while, I’ll wag my finger and shake my head when I see something that is too “out there” to be any good for anyone, but that usually involves a teenager smoking pot instead of studying for school. Or I might look at a couple who resolves to spend their money on their wedding ceremony instead of having a nest egg for the long run (e.g. a down payment for a home).

So I was a little bit conflicted when I read about a Johns Hopkins Student whose thesis research involved football. Yes, a lot of people write some rather strange theses. What surprised me about this student in particular was the allocation of resources to the thesis:

“Harrison used her $7,500 fellowship funds for tickets to Ravens 2012 home games (watching away games at bars in Fell’s Point) along with travel costs and tickets for playoffs and the Super Bowl and a hotel room in New Orleans for the championship. Her Super Bowl ticket—a cheap seat high in the end zone—cost $1,300.”

That’s right. She got $7,500 in cash to do whatever she wanted, and she used it on football tickets, and that irks me. It irks me because of all the other things that she could have done with that money to the benefit of Baltimore, a city with a ton of issues of disparity and inequity. Or even outside of Baltimore, she could have done a lot for the world. So what’s the benefit of this research?

“‘Other cities don’t have the kind of racial and monetary divides as Baltimore, and they also don’t have as strong a love for sports. We have that love because we need it. We want something that makes us the same, and in the Ravens, we have found it.’ Harrison’s thesis is called ‘52,000 Words: The Story of Baltimore and Its 2013 Super Bowl Champion Ravens.'”

So she acknowledges those “divides” and she…

No. You know what? I’m not going to be that guy. I’m going to let her do whatever she wants to do with her scholarship. Instead, let’s see what others with that privilege have done:

“The fellowships are given to incoming freshmen of outstanding merit and promise, who receive $10,000 for four years, and also to rising sophomores, who receive $7,500 for three, to cover expenses such as travel and equipment. Past recipients have gone on to win Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright, and Truman scholarships.

Completed work has ranged from a documentary film on the dwindling community of Jews in Malta to investigations of female circumcision in Africa.”

There’s this research on East Baltimore and how the dietary habits of its inhabitants are causing problems. Or this research that looks at the socioeconomics of human health. And then there’s this research:

Using a combination of historical, text-based research and anthropological, embedded observation, my Woodrow Wilson research explored the creation of sexy and experimental Yiddish theatre in the 21st century.”

Alright, I’ve got nothing. I’m done being critical. Everyone do what you want…

  1. I ponder the rather bizarre subjects, then consider thesis defense. How many would actually examine these “questionable” theses and find flaws?
    How many would simply ignore the absurd theses, hence permitting them to succeed.
    Then, I consider the fact that these won’t even be nominated for an Ig Nobel prize and likely, not even honorable mention.

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