The last few decades have seen frequent visits between the occupants of Planet R and Planet P. The natural inhabitants of Planet P are practitioners, while Planet R is home to researchers. Lately, the authorities of Planet R have been placing increasing pressure on their researchers to make their work more relevant and accessible to their kin labouring on Planet P. Being from Planet R myself, when a visitor from Planet P paid a passing visit to my neighbourhood, I jumped at the opportunity to interview him. I met a mature man, balding slightly and sporting grey touches at his temples. He was stylishly dressed in an elegant pinstriped suit.
"Time is money," he responded to my first question, clearly impatient. "Let`s not waste it on minor details like the correct spelling of my name. Just write that I`m a medical doctor by profession. And bear in mind, there are many types of practitioners on our planet, not only doctors. We have nurses, vets, psychologists, social workers, teachers--even viticulturists and winemakers."
"And what do you all have in common? Surely, any job implies that one is practising something of some kind?"
He smiled wryly. "Most of you researchers and authorities don`t seem to think so, going by your actions. As far as you`re concerned, we`re nothing but a special breed of workers who need your research to make our practices better. Evidence-based research, you call it. I think it has something to do with the fact that we are professionals, relying on expert knowledge to successfully get through our daily routines."
"Am I to understand that you don`t think much of research, then?"
"We do value what you do, at least the few bits and pieces we can understand. It`s so tedious when researchers try to impress one another with opaque papers and then think these will also impress us. Newsflash. They don`t. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to start speaking our language."
"I`ve always wondered, what does our planet look like from yours?" I was almost too scared to ask.
"We see your planet from a distance. It`s a bright star, I`ll hand you that, but by no means the brightest. Our six moons are much bigger and brighter. They are huge, always hovering above us to the extent that it sometimes feels as if we are living on them. Everything we do is governed by those six moons."
"Six moons! What are they called?"
"The big five are known as `Common Sense`, `My Experience`, `Your Experience`, `My Knowledge` and `Your Knowledge`. The smaller one is `Early Training`. They are very close to one another and are always visible while we work. Depending on the angle from which you look at them, they can appear very much aligned."
"Like an imaginary line?"
"Yes, two researchers from your planet once noticed the line of moons ruling our planet and called it a mindline. Not a bad name at all. John Gabbay and Andree le May, they were. They wrote about it and published their paper in the British Journal of Medicine. Look, here it is."
The man from Planet P took out his tablet and scrolled through a series of screens. "Yes, in 2004, volume 329, pages 1013 to 1016."
"They observed a group of medical practitioners and nurses on our planet. Now, where is that excellent quote of theirs ..." He donned his glasses. "Ah, here we are, page 1014:
` ... clinicians relied on what we have called "mindlines", collectively reinforced, internalised tacit guidelines, which were informed by brief reading, but mainly by their interactions with each other and with opinion leaders, patients and pharmaceutical representatives and by other sources of largely tacit knowledge that built on their early training and their own and their colleagues` experience.`
The practitioner looked me straight in the eye, then closed the tablet firmly. The interview was over.
"Is there anything else you would like to add, for us here on Planet R to understand you better?"
"Yes, tell them that practitioners are alive and well on Planet P. Thank you."
Dr Nelius Boshoff is a senior lecturer at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at the University of Stellenbosch