However, if you have internet access and some curiosity no reason you can't do your own research into a topic. Why rely on the fact-checkers, the media, forums, and your closest friends for all your information? Well, time is one factor but if you have enough time to express strongly worded opinions on-line then I'd say you have the time to take a closer look at what you are arguing for or against. You might find evidence that you're onto something (and isn't that a kick?) or you may find that you're full of it (which is, indeed, an ego-buster).
Here are a few ways to get started that don't cost much and won't be too time-consuming:
Take it from the top: This is a variation on what my thesis advisor tells her students. Let's say you have some strong opinions about migration in Asia. The big topic here is international migration. Start with the big picture. How many migrants in the world? The United Nations has a report about it. Read 11 pages and you'll get the trends and the numbers. On page 2 you will learn that: "Europe and Asia combined hosted nearly two thirds of all international migrants worldwide in 2015, with 76 million international migrants living in Europe and 75 million in Asia. Northern America hosted the third largest number of international migrants in 2013 (54 million)..." What percentage of the world's population is on the move? 3.3% Yes, that's right, 96+% of the people on this planet don't migrate. Now isn't that interesting?
And then just work your way down to the level about which you have an opinion. The information is usually just a search or two away. As I showed in my previous post, Japan has some kick-ass statistics going back to the 19th century.
Theories: We all have our own personal opinions about why this or that is happening in the world. Some people have spent time developing theories about them and other people spend their time agreeing with or refuting them. What you will probably find if you do some reading it that your independent opinion already fits into someone's theoretical framework. Have a look at this article by D. S. Massey, J. Arango, G. Hugo, A. Kouaouci, A. Pellegrino and J. E. Taylor. It's a nice summary of international migration theories.
Don't think of theories as the last word. Think of them more as a framework created by knowledgeable people who have taken the time to delve deep into a subject. It is a lens through which you can look at something that interests you. In one of my papers I used migration systems theory to look at centuries of migration between Canada and France.
Opinions: Yes, I think it's important to look at what people who are not academics or policy makers are saying about a topic. Forget the individual posts that make you cringe or piss you off. Look at the conversations and how people react. Some researchers use a technique called Critical Discourse Analysis to analyze Internet forums, media and other on-line conversations. Many a MA or PhD thesis or even just term papers use it. For all the debate over Internet privacy, a lot of people drop their filters on-line and let us all know what they really think. Again, the individual here is less relevant than the conversation itself and academics everywhere thank them all for their contributions.
Google Scholar: Google has a special section called Google Scholar for people doing research. It's free and you can do a lot with it: research an author or a topic or build a library of articles and citations. If you look up D. Massey (the first author of the article I cited) you will see that he has been cited about 67,000 times. If you click on one of his articles, look for the "Cited by" link and you'll get a list of the articles that used him as a source. Very useful. Try this with any source or author and see what you get.
Widespread Internet access has really lowered the barriers to doing research. It's not everything if you are going to write a complex paper with an original argument for a Board of Examiners. But, you can still go a lot farther, faster, than I could when I was getting my BA back in the Dark Ages.
There is almost too much information out there. The trick is to be able to critically evaluate what you read, and having the ability to check your ego at the door and prepare yourself for anything. I still love what the late great Christopher Hitchens had to say about this:
- "How do I know that I know this, except that I’ve always been taught this and never heard anything else? It’s always worth establishing first principles. It’s always worth saying, what would you do if you met a Flat Earth Society member? Come to think of it, how can I prove the earth is round? Am I sure about the theory of evolution? I know it’s supposed to be true. Here’s someone who says there’s no such thing, it’s all intelligent design. How sure am I of my own views? Don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus, and the feeling that whatever you think you’re bound to be okay, because you’re in the safely moral majority."