Lost in Translation and Political Will: Research and Policy as a Means to Advance Human Rights

By Head, Carmen J. | Journal of Research Administration, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Lost in Translation and Political Will: Research and Policy as a Means to Advance Human Rights


Head, Carmen J., Journal of Research Administration


My grandfather, Fred L. Tyson, was a subject of the U.S. Public Health Syphilis Study at Tuskegee. The Syphilis Study remains the most infamous biomedical research study conducted in this country. Like many of the other 300 men in the study, my grandfather was an uneducated sharecropper. Many of the protocols and ethical standards that are in place today to protect human research subjects are a direct result of the abuse of power, loss of life, and breach in trust that occurred during this thirty-five year study.

My grandfather was fortunate to be a study survivor who went on to live a long life after his involvement in the study. As a child, I enjoyed listening to his stories about growing up poor in Tuskegee, in the early 1900s. Often times, he would end his stories by offering words of wisdom and lessons he learned from past life experiences. I vividly remember his colorful stories and how they would invoke my imagination as a girl. Today my heightened sense of compassion for impoverished communities and the need to explore past and current socioeconomic trends and their impact on human rights is due in part to my grandfather's stories.

Societal ills that continue to plague our world such as unequal health status and education attainment, poor living conditions, and oppression through violence are sustained through a plethora of wide reaching issues. Many of these challenges are created and sustained by longstanding root causes. Some of these complex determinants have been in place since the earth's earliest civilizations. Their vigour and continued existence do not suggest to me that solutions, cures, or common ground cannot be discovered. They signify the need for the development of multifaceted approaches driven by research to cultivate social change.

The broad overarching goals of research are to identify errors to previous thoughts, solutions to existing problems, and explanations for unanswered questions. Research also provides estimations or projections for what may lie ahead. The field of research will continue to be a catalyst for change and progress as many of the world's questions biologically, philosophically, and socially, have yet to be answered. While the need for research continues, many challenges exist in unleashing its full power to influence or create social change.

Jan L.A. van de Snepscheut once said, "In theory, theory and practice are the same thing. In practice they're not." Not only does this quote make the most compelling case for examining how we as researchers and practitioners dialogue with one another on the same issue, it highlights the ever pressing need for us to strengthen the translation of research findings to practitioners and beyond.

Since data and trends are the most pressing and significant factors that guide the creation and analysis of anything from effective medical therapies to environmental policies; it is not surprising that researchers, from all fields, play a dynamic and critical role in improving human rights. The more difficult questions ask how to:

... translate and disseminate research findings such as unequal access and racism to world audiences to strengthen momentum for a more humane world;

... form a more unified bond between researchers and practitioners that celebrates differences while allowing both research and practice methods to be made malleable based on research and practice recommendations;

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Lost in Translation and Political Will: Research and Policy as a Means to Advance Human Rights
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