LGBT research is 'futile' (and short on L, B and T)

December 4, 2008

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) research funded by research councils, the Government and charities is no longer advancing knowledge, an expert in the field has warned.

Ian Rivers, professor of education at Brunel University, said that research in the field was often "futile" as funders looked to support "safe bets" and work was needlessly replicated in different parts of a devolved UK.

"The wheel has been rediscovered across every border," he told the University and College Union's LGBT conference at Northumbria University last week.

"I have stifled my academic concerns about the futility of yet another review of literature funded by one agency when one was conducted only three years ago, which was tendered for and won by the same organisation," Professor Rivers said.

"Nor have I, until now, voiced my belief about the lack of necessity for another pack to combat homophobic bullying when I can count no fewer than ten currently in existence in the UK alone."

Professor Rivers also pointed to a lack of funding for innovative projects, undercutting of academics by research and consultancy companies, and a preoccupation with "big studies" rather than "little, well-designed studies".

"Has research become simply a matter of 'have data must publish'?" he asked. "Do we focus on issues such as the size of the sample or the data set rather than the messages contained within it? Have we forgotten that theory is a tool rather than an object of research?"

He also questioned whether the LGBT research community was too inclusive. "It may be the case that in trying to be inclusive we have failed to recognise the exclusivity that some of our research requires," he said.

Services labelled LGBT often serve "G" and hopefully "L", occasionally "B" and rarely "T", he said. "How can we justify the fact that LGBT sexual health usually means gay men's health? We accept a need to fund gay men's health projects, but what about lesbian health, transgender health, bisexual health? In trying to be inclusive have we 'played' to the lowest common denominator?"

Funding difficulties might stem from some studies that paid lip service to the multiple identities within the LGBT label, he suggested.

The professor concluded his speech by calling on fellow academics to "rise up in protest against the conservatism within the teaching, recognition and funding of research methods (and) to express our increasing frustration with research councils' desire to fund safe bets rather than look objectively at good research."

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