Low-and-Low, or: Is It Really Rigor vs. Relevance?


In our last information systems seminar, we discussed the concept of “rigor vs. relevance.” That is, how do you research with scientific rigor while maintaining managerial relevance?

These are unfortunately framed as mutually exclusive: it seems almost a badge of honor to publish on obscure topics in indecipherable prose. I love reading and got a near-perfect score on the GRE verbal, but I can barely get through many of our articles. 

This debate is just not necessary. Research can be both rigorous and relevant — take the example of Louis Pasteur. 

I have a particular affinity for Pasteur, as I dressed up as him for a first-grade book report project. Turns out he is still a great academic role model all these years later.

Pasteur’s quadrant  classifies research that has a quest for fundamental understanding (rigor) against that which has practical use for society (relevance). Pasteur hits the sweet spot, while scientists like Edison are low on rigor and high on relevance, and Bohr vice versa.

The low-and-low quadrant on Wikipedia is blank — and I’ve got a candidate. One classmate suggested I be called “Low-and-Low,” a good complement to our senior doctoral student who refers to himself as “The Knucklehead.”

So while rigor vs. relevance is a false dichotomy, it doesn’t mean you can’t have either! At least until I finish my research methods class. 

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