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By: Lauren Martinelli

Can we truly be objective?

Objectivity is a concept that is often praised in research. This praise is because objectivity is seen as the only route to the truth of a matter (Whitmore, 2022). However, the idea that research done by a person can be completely impartial and unbiased is disingenuous. The goal of reaching true objectivity is unrealistic, as researchers would need to separate themselves entirely from their observations (Whitmore, 2022).

Prioritizing objectivity can also lead us to neglect other avenues of investigation, such as participatory research, as these ventures are deemed too subjective (Whitmore, 2022). Further, societal structures skew our understandings of who is capable of achieving objectivity. Marginalized researchers are often considered less capable of objectivity, as they are not seen as default so their positions are assumed to be immutably subjective (Williams et al., 2019).

Claiming that any individual can produce completely objective research allows us to leave parts of our own research unaddressed and uninvestigated (Whitmore, 2022). It is important to be critical of other’s research and our own. One way that we can investigate existing implicit bias is by asking questions like the following:
  • What questions are asked in the research?
  • What underlying assumptions influence what is and is not asked?
  • Who gets to ask the questions?
  • Who gets to answer the questions?
  • Who gets to be included in the sample, and who is excluded?
  • Who is funding the research?
(Whitmore, 2022)
These questions emphasize the impossibility of true objectivity and allow us to acknowledge existing biases and ideologies (Whitmore, 2022). These questions can also direct attention towards gaps in who has the opportunity to pose questions or lead investigations. This evaluation can prompt researchers to encourage diversity in research, as opposed to devaluing diverse perspectives in research on the basis of objectivity (Whitmore, 2022).

How did this look in real life?

In my first venture into research, I was quite concerned about my own bias impacting the study. I did not want my biased conceptions to skew participants’ personal meanings. Thus, I struggled with defining the central phenomenon being investigated. I did not want to inject my own personal ideas and beliefs into the concept, as they could be far different from the ideas of the participants involved in the study.

I sought to investigate social inclusion for individuals with neurodegenerative disabilities, but with no gold standard definition of the concept, I felt ill-equipped to boil the concept down to one discrete definition myself. I did not feel capable of producing an objective definition of social inclusion, knowing I was unable to take a position in which my own views did not impact the resulting definition. This felt especially apparent as the concept of social inclusion is very ambiguous, and involves emotional experiences.

To resolve this issue, I took a step back from the elusive goal of objectivity. As my goal focused more on not speaking over individuals within the study on what social inclusion means to them, I could take from the ideas in participatory research to approach a definition.
  • I allowed room for the central concept of social inclusion to be informed by the participants, by avoiding defining social inclusion with my personal meanings, and by discussing the benefits of the programming without using this subjective term.
  • I utilized broader questions in focus groups, and spoke to participants with terms with more concrete meanings to avoid leading participants with my preconceptions, allowing meaningful experiences to be defined by participants themselves (Enago Academy, 2022).
Thus, if social inclusion is a significant outcome for participants, the concept would be infused with meaning by the participants, through a broader collection of experiences. This resolution is not perfect, and I think, in the future, I would like to spend more time investigating my perspective, taking more pauses to ask critical questions like those offered earlier. But this strategy felt true to the priority of serving the population of study and engaging with their own ideas, as opposed to seeking the most objective route to research.

Evidently, researchers cannot achieve perfect objectivity, but I believe investigating our own biases, and whether objectivity is really the most crucial pursuit can lead us to better engagement with research in the future.

About the Author:

Lauren Martinelli is a recent graduate of Ontario Tech University’s Bachelor of Health Science program. She had the opportunity to complete a research practicum at Abilities Centre, familiarizing herself further with the research process through evaluation of the Minds in Motion programming. Through this opportunity, Lauren found a passion for community-based research, and research intended to benefit vulnerable communities. Through Abilities Centre’s Journal Club, Lauren had the opportunity to engage with other researchers and individuals involved in the organization, learning from many different perspectives. This forum prompted her to evaluate research more critically, including her own research ventures. Lauren aspires to further pursue research in the field of public health, with continued critical assessment of issues in academic research.


Enago Academy. (2022) Dealing with bias in academic research.
Whitmore, B. (2022). Debunking the myth of truly objective research. Open Library.
Williams, R. M., Waisome, J., McMullen, K., Drobina, E. (2019). The fallacy of objectivity.

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