Research: then and now

This commentary was inspired by the recent opinion piece in Slate "Why Are Conservatives More Susceptible to Believing Lies?"

I consider myself a middle-of-the-road independent. I don't completely trust any political party nor its representatives. However, I dislike conspiracy theories; my tendency is to trust experts in respective fields to provide information based on logic, reasoning, etc. Their findings may not fit any preconceived notions I have, but that's the way it should be - challenge assumptions, test, retest.

I'm a Generation X-er. When I was learning about the nature of information and research as a high school through grad student, there were fewer producers of news. Now any gradient of opinion on any topic can be found, and there is the common pattern of the user-selected "news" feeds on social media platforms (the selection is also encouraged by the algorithms of the platform).

Some, especially those outside of academia, might be tempted to think that given the current number of sources available at one's fingertips, search and research would be easier now. If anything, I believe it is more challenging. When I was a college and graduate student I quickly learned that prior to any trip to the library, I would have to have a plan to have any hopes of productive work and results. I had to do some research about the library prior to engaging in research there, e.g., what resources did they have or not have, where were collections and formats located, etc.

When I was a student it felt like research was forming something out of building blocks. In contrast, the research process now is frequently more analogous to a sieve, i.e., put these words in a search and see what comes out. I don't envy the wealth of information today's students have to navigate through. Again, my generation had less sources to choose from; there was less "noise" to filter through. To me noise can even include some of the content in academic databases - the chief selling point of the for-profit outfits that offer these databases is the total number of full text titles. As we all know, quantity and quality are often mutually exclusive.

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