Is research too easy?

June 14, 2009

I am as big a fan of efficiency as anyone. Though I enjoy the smell of old books, I don’t miss looking through library stacks when deadlines approach. However, I do wonder what negatives will result from tools that provide instant access to heretofore unthinkably vast repositories of knowledge.

I was recently introduced to Zotero. Anything that simplifies the citation process can do no wrong. Better yet, its open source pedigree, price point of $0 and recent legal triumph over Thompson West only add to my admiration.

More spectacular, in the wake of the Google Books Search settlement (breakdown [pdf]), it appears a vast trove of humankind’s recorded history and learnings will be available imminently.

What’s not to like? Work smarter, not harder, right?

In a word: stovepiping. Stovepiping, or focusing on information in isolation, can lead to a certain lack of context. The ability to knock out work product chock full of snippets isn’t anything new. A book’s table of contents and index has always (to some degree) enabled the quick ascertainment of relevant information. Aren’t algorithms and focused queries just improvements upon what’s already out there?

Maybe not. This is a new beast and the Model-T wasn’t just a faster horse and buggy. Going directly to key words and search terms can speed a process, but I feel there is a risk that the onus on the reader to check the footnotes for contextual veracity will only increase. Good thing they’ll be easy to Google.

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3 Responses to “ Is research too easy? ”

  1. revisingproust on June 15, 2009 at 5:23 am

    I had never heard the word stovepiping before.

    People like me may want to see: the wikipedia entry

  2. revisingproust on June 15, 2009 at 5:24 am

    that's a link, btw. (hover over.)

  3. mr.killstudent on June 16, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Thanks for the article! I cut and pasted a piece of it for a report I'm doing about people who enjoy the smell of old books.

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