27 July 2010

So much research

Recently, I’ve mentioned a few posts talking about their “concern” with the amount of research out there, with the implication being that the research must be bad because there is so much of it.

I think one of my forthcoming papers (available as a preprint) is a good example of how there’s more research because our ability to do meaningful research has increased so much.

Simply put, it’s a paper would not have been possible all that long ago.

The goal was to try to get a sense of how long people have been keeping Marmorkrebs as pets in North America. In pre-Internet days, the amount of effort to get at this question would have made it impractical to do. How could you get an answer? Place an ad in a aquarium hobby magazine asking people to contact me? Phone pet stores individually? Travel to meetings? Most likely, it would rely on word-of-mouth reports from fellow scientists at things like the recent Astacology meeting.

Now, there are online tools that made the whole enterprise relatively easy. Online survey tools, online mapping tools, and a little promotion on a few forums, and now I have data that starts to get at the question.

More research doesn’t mean there is proportionately more bad research.

The question now is whether our ability to search and filter the data can keep up with out ability to generate the data. Seth Godin has termed this the big sort, and notes that the cataloguing is just beginning. Likewise, this post talks about what the volume of publishing does for peer review (though I think I disagree with the solution).

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