'Curiosity driven research'

Professor Jen Snowball, the recipient of Rhodes University's Vice-Chancellor's Distinguished Research Award for 2014, is never bored.

In her Awards lecture, delivered on Wednesday evening at the Grove Lecture Theatre at Rhodes, Snowball spoke of "curiosity-driven research" and what motivates scientists to do research.

Snowball, an Associate Professor of Economics at the University, has authored 34 published papers about a myriad of different topics, ranging from determining the value of the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, to an exploration of the economic valuation theory of rhino poaching.

Last year, she won the Vice-Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award and is recognised for her work on cultural economics.

Snowball said that while money was important in the field of economics, it was not the only thing that mattered.

She said that economists are often perceived as "people who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing."

"A theory of price can't be a theory of value," she said.

Snowball compared water and diamonds as an example. While water is far more useful and valuable to us as human beings, diamonds have a higher price because of their symbolic value. Snowball suggested that sometimes putting a price on something actually serves to "devalue" it.

Snowball is constantly coming up with new ideas for research, inspired by the world around her. This explains the radical diversity between her articles.

Thanking Eskom for its role in inspiring one of her research papers, Snowball said that her paper on the economic motivations of rhino poachers was inspired by conversations she had during a power failure.

Her article about heritage routes in South Africa came about because of a road trip she took with a friend. Even watching the daily news gives Snowball more ideas about projects she might want to pursue in the future.

This, she said, is what "curiosity-driven" research is all about.

By Kerstin Hall

Source: Grocott’s Mail