Rigorous caution in TS research

Daniel Gile


One of the very fundamental norms of ESP is caution. Being aware of sensory and cognitive limitations of humans and of the high risk of their perception being distorted by personal bias, the ‘Scientific Method’ insists on caution, in particular when reporting facts, when interpreting phenomena and when making inferences.

There seems to be a substantial difference between ESP and LAP norms with respect to interpreting phenomena and making inferences: in ESP, when phenomena are interpreted (for instance a translator’s particular behaviour), the rule is not only to try to use all available evidence to generate the interpretation, but also to indicate what the evidence is, and above all to show clearly when the interpretation is speculative and when a claim is made; in LAP, this is apparently not the case (judging by the fact that peers do not react when authors do not comply with this norm), and after interpretation, assertions are often made with little restraint. Similarly, in ESP, inferences are explicit and generally do not venture much beyond what the evidence points to as virtually the only logical conclusion which can be drawn from the facts – except when explanatory hypotheses are offered, in which case their speculative nature is made clear; in LAP, intuitive inferences rather than inferences constrained by the evidence and by strict adherence to Aristotelian logic seem to be acceptable.

However, when reporting facts, caution should apply equally to both paradigms; it is difficult to see an advantage in reporting facts incorrectly no matter what kind of research approach is adopted. In particular, there is no reason why authors from either ESP or LAP should say that a hypothesis has been ‘proved’ if only some evidence supporting it has been offered but there is still room for doubt; or why they should say that something has been shown ‘about translators’ if it has only been shown about translation students, or why they should write that an author has expressed a certain idea if s/he has only written something compatible with that idea (but perhaps with different ideas as well). In TS literature there are still many cases where this norm of rigorous reporting of facts is broken, both in texts reporting on empirical research and in LAP publications.

Being rigorous in research is a norm. It is also an attitude and a form of self-discipline. But how does one become rigorous? Some TS scholars may have a ‘naturally’ rigorous personality. Some have acquired rigorous working habits when studying disciplines such as law or mathematics. Others need to be trained. In some established empirical disciplines, this is part of hands-on training in research methods (it is through numerous corrections that one is socialized into appropriate habits). In other disciplines, it is up to supervisors to instil in their supervisees rigorous practices by commenting on any deviations from the norm. When such supervisors are not available, referees and other evaluators can help by pointing out weaknesses in manuscripts submitted for publication. But this requires awareness, dedication and some courage.