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What do you do when writing a dissertation and research papers conflic

  1. Jul 18, 2014 #1

    I'm currently starting to write a dissertation for my 3rd year project and wondering if someone could give me some advice?

    I'm finding published research papers that conflict each other, obviously up until now I have taken them and anything in textbooks as gospel. But now i'm in the situation where different papers suggest different theories and in numerous cases are conflicting each other WITH either their own experimental evidence or some mathematical derivation which proves their case mathematically.

    So, what do I do? How do you decide (without doing your own experimental research) which is correct? Or do you just kind of summarise each theory and describe how they differ from each other?

    Thanks for ANY hints / advice on this!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2014 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    It is not unusual to find conflicting papers.
    Review the sources the papers cite - one or more of them could just be wrong, or the conflict may be superficial.
    Look for other papers which cite the ones with the conflict - someone else has probably already vetted them for you.
    Look carefully through experimental papers - you need to look for problems with the experiments.
    The more clear the paper is, the less likely there is to be something wrong with it.

    You don't have to pick which is "right" - that's not really your job - but you do want to avoid using bad research as support for your main points.

    You may need to acknowledge any conflict in the research in your dissertation.
    Your supervisor will be able to guide you.

    Bottom line: consult your supervisor.
  4. Jul 18, 2014 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    Welcome to the practice of science- it's messy. What you describe is exactly *why* additional work should be performed, so I somewhat confused by what your "3rd year project" entails. Does it not require not actual work to try and distinguish the different hypotheses?
  5. Jul 18, 2014 #4
    This is actually a great opportunity for some real work on your part. I'm not sure if it's your job to figure out which is the correct one, but a discussion of the conflicts themselves can be an invaluable contribution to whatever field you're looking into.

    For example [person 1] in [paper 1] suggests that [something something], althought [person 2] in [paper 2] has evidence that contradicts this notion. Possible reasons are [yadda yadda].

    As far as mathematical proof, you can't mathematically *prove* two conflicting things. It just isn't possible. So there is something else going on, possibly some sloppy math, or the understanding of the science.
  6. Jul 18, 2014 #5
    Pretty sure this applies to all research. :biggrin:
  7. Jul 18, 2014 #6


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    One will often find models/theories describing the same physical phenomenon, and there will be some disagreement. It could be a little or a lot depending on the inputs and physical dependencies.

    I've seen discrepancies in experimental work and theoretical work, and often there was something that was overlooked or not yet understood. This is often the case with older experiments and models, since during one or more decades, we learn more and discover what was previously unknown or not understood.

    One then can compare one's work with the previous and indicate where one supports or is consistent with previous work, and where one disagrees, and why there might be disagreement, and how such as disagreement can be reconciled.

    Much scientific work is incomplete or partially complete because there is always new things we discover, or we just don't know it all yet - if ever.
  8. Jul 18, 2014 #7
    Oh and one more thing:

    You'll want to stop doing that.
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