Wednesday, May 05, 2010

It happens only in India

In our institute, there is a Humanities student who is doing research on how behavioral traits affect the retention and reproduction capabilities of memory. For this, she had to conduct a survey of more than 200 people to gather enough data.

The best way to gather people in IIT is to send out earnest e-mails to seemingly interested parties. With the existence of mailing lists, it is even more easier to do that. So, on her request, I sent out an e-mail to all the PhD students in IIT and also sent a separate mail to the students of Chemical Department. And lo! More than forty people responded to the e-mail and participated in the survey. Just on the basis on an e-mail. People who didn't know me or the student or haven't met either of us, went to participate just because they were either curious or genuinely interested in helping the student.

But, this very attribute, the student says, is a problem when she would be collating her results and publishing them. She says that foreign reviewers fail to understand how is it possible for people to participate in a survey, if there were no incentives offered to the participants. They are just not able to digest the fact that people came to the survey only because they were curious about the content or they actually wanted to help her with her research work. And that is because, in foreign universities, especially the ones in US, Canada and Europe, it is common to give incentives to people to participate in surveys. Their claim is that people respond only to incentives and therefore it is hard to believe that more than two hundred people participate just on the basis of an earnest appeal.

I guess, this is what is Indian culture. Helping out even without thinking of the incentives. All participants were helping the student with her research work when they participated in the survey. And they have done it without considering the benefit involved as it wasn't anything like an IQ test, where the results can be used for bragging about self. And perhaps that is why we saw no riots during the July 2005 floods in Mumbai. It was the opposite. Residents in low-lying areas helped everybody stuck in the floods. There were people stranded on roof-tops of BEST buses, who needed to be evacuated. Before the government could swing into full action, it was the work of these individual citizens that saved so many lives. This is in complete contrast to the aftermath of the Katrina hurricane, which saw so many food related riots in Louisiana.

As the Shilpa Shetty-Govinda song goes- "It happens only in India!!"
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  1. at first while reading the post, i was actually not able to get the argument, cause have already answered surveys and also forwarded them through emails, without even the slightest thought for incentives??? that came in as a kind of shock here! I think in academia its perfectly alright but as soon as you start using it for commercial purposes I have an objection and if its commercial and the survey taker is unaware...its a strict no! It was jus yest I read an article which talked abt the kind of knowledge rather data base social networking sites are building up which are like gold mines to be cashed on and the user is jus unaware of this..this was for fb and i think it is the time to address such issues for such othr probable gateways, rather than falling prey to them.

  2. well, it is clearly mentioned on the first of the student's questionnaire that the data would be used for academic purpose. Unlike Facebook, where it is probably in the fine print that they are eligible to reveal data to designated third parties.

    But international reviewers refuse to believe that people turn up for such surveys even if they are not provided any incentives.

  3. I was humming that song when I read the title and you had mentioned it as well.

    Quite true when you talk about our country. Now in Belfast, there are certain things that people here just cannot understand. If we offer something, they always think that they have to pay back. they cannot think that anyone can give them anything for free. These are some of the things that make us feel good about our country - our heritage, ability to share, etc, etc.

    A very 'touching' one, if I may call that. All you other posts are matter-of-fact but not this one!


  4. Well, this post too, is a fact that I observed. Just that, I had to add some more instances of the helping nature to make the case more convincing.