40 acres and a mule

Weller’s ideas regarding the integration of research on the web are pretty attractive. Who wouldn’t want unpaid but knowledgeable volunteers to help you resolve problems, find mistakes, test your ideas? Unfortunately, I think his rose-colored glasses are a bit too much.

In our present state of data-richness, where you can find information about almost anything, and can subsequently connect it with lots of different things, analysis and synthesis are most valuable. If you hand out your analysis recipe for free, no one needs to buy the cake. Even worse, someone else might take credit for it. This is most likely to happen early in the process: if your recipe still doesn’t state that you should use flour, or that the oven needs to be on when you share it, someone else can very easily assert that since they added that crucial info, they’re the author, not you.
In other words, I think in an ideal world we would put our ideas out there and have a community help us out through the trial-and-error from early on. Unfortunately, I think that’s a dream. Unicorns are all well and good, but they don’t exist. The closest thing we have is the rhinoceros (think about it.)
In reality, you probably won’t want to share your idea but rather your work once it’s been through a few iterations and is a recognizable product rather than just an idea. You also may want to share it with only a select group, at least at first (this could be a paywall or membership).

Of course, this is field-specific. Technology-oriented fields probably will be more open. Similarly, less esoteric fields will have a larger web audience – and therefore more potential contributors – in the first place. Still, many fields, including my own, will intrinsically have a vast array of research that can’t fit in this utopian open-web process.

So much research takes years to complete, for instance. The internet is great for things that work now. It’s OK to post a version 1.0 and have the web beta test it, but you need to then regularly move onto 1.1, 1.2, and then 2.0, 3.0, etc. Woe to those who don’t update regularly! Think of apps that haven’t been updated for a while. They’re often called “abandonware”. Abandonware may very well NOT be abandoned, but if there isn’t regular updating, people will assume it is. Similarly, I think researchers sharing slow-maturing projects to the web may be hurting their cause. First, as I stated above, because of the risk of theft. Second, however, would be piquing people’s interest and then letting them down for months or even years before following through. I think of it as the risk of overhype. You really risk disappointing people that way. Think about how you felt after seeing Episode I. You don’t want the internet to feel the way about your work.

Source: http://www.theshiznit.co.uk

I completely agree with Weller about the potential for change with digital avenues of research. It already has changed research, overwhelmingly for the better. But mostly this has been in speeding up research and with improving dissemination. It hasn’t fundamentally changed research or the process of publishing. A digital approach won’t be a panacea. Instead, it will be adopted by fields at their own pace and for their own uses. I, for one, don’t think that’s a negative at all. On the contrary, this is quite empowering: in my field, at least, I could encourage new models for research that fit our goals and ideals. It’s still the digital wild west, and that means we can be pioneers instead of just followers.

2 thoughts on 40 acres and a mule

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  1. Pingback: » Networks, Webs, and Work, pt. 1 Detour Ahead

  2. Yes, I think some of what Weller discusses re. research is discipline-specific. I’ve been reluctant to put my research online until it’s published. That’s not a bad thing…as you point out in your opening comments. I’ve got a project I’m blogging about (some), and my thought is if it’s there…I have to complete it. And it’s a project I’m hoping students (and others) will give me feedback on.