I sent 1621 unsolicited emails earlier this week. I have mixed feelings about this.
On one hand: what right to we have to clutter up the inboxes of people we don’t know? Worse yet, ask them for 10 minutes of their already-oversubscribed time?
The emails were invitations to an online questionnaire. As such, they don’t fall into most definitions of “spam” since they do not advertise or have commercial intent. But they are a bother, and we all receive too many emails already thanks.
On the other hand, the emails were sent to corresponding authors. These authors supplied an email address as part of the publishing process, as per our current academic norms, agreeing to be corresponded with.
A solicitation to an online questionnaire is not a very satisfying correspondence. But Evidence-based Science Policy only works if we have Evidence. We need to know what people — authors — think and feel and do. To the extent that we can figure this out without bothering people, let’s do that. But it is pretty tricky to know what people are worried about just by following their public research artifacts.
So far, the response rate is for my study about 15%, normal for this audience. I’ve received one “this is the 8th survey invitation this year” complaint email response, one “hey, you have a cool last name” email response, and a whole bunch of great data.
We owe it to corresponding authors to only do the surveys we need to do, to do them carefully and to design them such that the results make a difference. Worth saying twice: We owe it to corresponding authors to only do the surveys we need to do, to do them carefully and to design them such that the results make a difference. (I cover some details of my approach to this in a following post, to facilitate exchange of ideas.) And we need to work toward more sustainable, scalable models for gathering this evidence. We all get too many evaluation surveys these days. That said, until we have a better solution, I think some (carefully designed) unsolicited surveys are better than no surveys.
Here’s hoping that corresponding authors continue to benefit the research community by occasionally serving as research subjects as well as research producers.