Tackle specific problems, not general questions


If you are like me and enjoy the Opinions section, then you are a person who likes reading different points of views on issues. There is, however, a very worrying trend I see in most of the pieces — opinions with evidence to support their opinions. That sounds illogical right? Let me explain my argument by doing the same.

I will ask the question, “Should the government be focusing on creating jobs?” Does anyone see the problem with the question? The question is too general. I know — it’s obvious you have to take into account the current economic environment, type of economy, social consequences, etc. Now, I ask if you factor all those things into account has there ever been any point in history exactly like 2011? The answer to that is, of course, no. We can at least still look at similar conditions, right?

To the original question, there are many that would first like to compare our current time to the Great Depression, in terms of the economy. Can we just ignore the iPhone, Google, Netflix, space junk, Viagra and all the other things that weren’t around during the Great Depression? There are well-known economists who studied similar situations to what we are facing now but the problem is the word “similar.” On the other hand, that is the best we have to work with, which still doesn’t mean you’ll find the “right” answer to the general question. Asking general questions lead to pieces that provide another person’s work as evidence the opinion in said piece is correct.

As a graduate student, I get to examine other people’s work more often than most, in the form of research papers. The great thing about research papers is they try to be as specific as possible. They detail the exact problem they are trying to solve, their theory, experiment setup, results and finally conclusion. The interesting part is the actual problem and experiment setup, not the answer. What most people don’t understand about research papers is that a proposed solution can fail 99.99 percent of the time in general, but in a very specific case it can work better than other solutions. This in general is seen as a good paper and good research.

So what does this say when you use another person’s work as evidence? Well, you are using them out of context or the person’s work you are using won’t have a big impact factor in the field. As an experiment, I ask the readers to ask their professors questions about their research. Pay attention to how they answer. They will always begin by explaining the problem and what condition they are taking into account in their research and why. They do this because you cannot possibly take every condition into account. Next they will begin to explain what they see as the smaller problems. They will explain to you piece-by-piece what their solution is and why. That is because they are experts, and they became so after many years of looking at particular problems and their sub-problems.

I hope the question, “Should the government be focusing on creating jobs?” served to show that, sometimes, trying to look at the big picture of something is pointless. Not because the question is pointless, but because the knowledge to answer such a general question isn’t there. I personally think we would have to wait about 30 years before we can find the solutions to a lot of specific questions and then make a consensus on the general question.

Rauls Lasluisa is a University graduate student.

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