4.22.2011

Fun with distance learning

Classes haven't started yet, but they've opened up the discussion forums so we can practice posting threads, introducing ourselves and asking simple questions. I've put way more thought into this than I need to, because..well, for no reason, I just felt like typing a lot. Very rapidly. Here's one of my posts, in the response to a question (which I'm paraphrasing) "How do you find good sources for your papers?"


  Ah, an interesting question.  Whom to believe?  Wikipedia is too malleable to be used for anything but a tertiary resource (even though it's more accurate than most encyclopedias and is a useful jumping-off point for research).  Some meta-researchers contend that a high percentage of peer-reviewed scientific journals are bunk, and a computer science student even procedurally generated a fake article that passed the peer-review process.  The peer-review process is often used as a cudgel for political or monetary gain, sacrificing accuracy for profit.  There are inklings of a successor to the peer-review process, however the current system is so established it's only fraying at the edges instead of imploding.  There's no incentive to change the system if it means a drug company can bribe their way into scientific "fact" through the peer review process.



Ok, so I'm ranting a little. Back to the question: Whom do you trust? It's not clear that there is any source that is authoritative, only sources that are commonly agreed upon: The "True Enough", as Wittgenstein was fond of saying to his students. It seems as though Meta-analysis is increasingly necessary to determine the quality of the information we consume. A simple fact presented to us may be checked and cross-checked, however the possibility always remains that the original source was wrong to begin with, and the other sources are merely repeating the error. Teasing apart this tangled web of intention and meaning often requires collaboration, and "the more, the merrier". Through discussion and collaborative comparison of sources we can often expose ourselves to understanding that's off the beaten path.



I humbly offer these options as possible starting-points for where that collaborative process is taking place on the Web (in no particular order - not an exhaustive list - please consult your dermatologist).