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The funnel

November 24, 2008

Though marveling at the technology displayed in the following video, and its potential, both democratic and nefarious, (click on the image to play or pause, or go here to view full size)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

i found myself however feeling that the issue at present and for the future is not necessarily access to more knowledge but developing strategies of discernment, which it now seems is not an unfounded concern as voiced in this article from the Boston Globe which begins:

[…]the greatest boon is the sheer quantity of readily accessible knowledge. Millions of journal articles are available online, enabling scholars to find material they never would have encountered at their university libraries. From classic psychology studies to the most esoteric literary theory, it’s all just a few clicks away.

A recent study, however, suggests that despite this cornucopia, the boom in online research may actually have a “narrowing” effect on scholarship. James Evans, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, analyzed a database of 34 million articles in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and determined that as more journal issues came online, new papers referenced a relatively smaller pool of articles, which tended to be more recent, at the expense of older and more obscure work. Overall, Evans says, published research has expanded, due to a proliferation of journals, authors, and conferences. But the paper, which appeared in July in the journal Science, concludes that the Internet’s influence is to tighten consensus, posing the risk that good ideas may be ignored and lost – the opposite of the Internet’s promise.

“Winners are inadvertently picked,” says Evans.

Many of my own personal discoveries and insights were the result of simply perusing the spines of books as i wandered between the shelves in the library stacks. Like the surrealists, i am in thrall of serendipity and chance, but such does have it practical rewards,

Internet search tools are not neutral: they tend to privilege the new and the popular. And for all the frustrations of older research methods, their very inefficiency may have yielded rewards. Leafing through print journals or browsing the stacks can expose researchers to a context that is missing in the highly targeted searches of PubMed or PsychInfo. The old-fashioned style of browsing, some say, can provide academics with more background knowledge, and lead to serendipitous insights when they stumble upon articles or books they weren’t necessarily looking for.

The full article is well worth reading.

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