Research Fail

Recently I received a fairly typical “please do my research for me” email from a graduate student at a US university. It related to an open source software project I’ve done some work on and asked a couple of questions:

1. I was wondering if [project] has gone under any major restructuring/redesign initiative in its history. Restructuring/redesign initiative can be defined as a concerted effort during a time period in which major changes were applied to the code base to improve software architecture/design while little or no functional enhancement was made.

2. If the project has gone under such an initiative, then would it be possible for you to give the dates or revision/release numbers that are “right before” and “right after” this structuring effort? I would like to checkout the source code from the repository to compare structural measurements that belong to “before” and “after” snapshots. Note that the dates and revision/release numbers should be right before and right after the initiative because I would like to be able to isolate and observe the effects of this effort.

Both these questions, and the second one in particular, would call for a considerable amount of work to be done in order to answer them even if it were possible to get past the wooliness of the first question and decide which changes counted.

The real issue however, is that surely the point of being a research student is to do research to answer whatever question you have set yourself? Not just to email lots of other people and ask them to do the work for you…

In this case the originator in fact implied in a subsequent email (after he decided that my lack of reply meant he should ignore the fact that I had unsubscribed from his list and email me again and I had told him exactly what I thought of this) that he emailed somewhere in the region of 3000 people with this request.

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