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Why aren’t we doing this?

Posted by rdebelak on December 7, 2008

I’m obsessed with my RSS feeder. And I’m obsessed with this TED talk. At the end of the presentation he talks about his project to make data more accessible to the internet. Dealing with the data conversion is one issue, but I am wondering if we can make the digitized versions of academic journals available through RSS. Academics could just subscribe to the journals they want. Or better yet, when we digitize them we tag each article out like a del.icio.us bookmark.

So now a political science researcher gets every new article tagged in “polling data,” or “John Rawls,” or “game theory” delivered to him as soon as it’s accepted for publication and uploaded. Research assistants could skip the endless ICPSR searches and skip straight to the endless reading and number running.

What about going cross-field? As modern academics catches up with itself, researchers are diving across diverse areas of study, using biology to explain psychology, psychology to explain Camus, and The Stranger to explain existentialism (and existentialism to explain nothing). Now the econ people are getting everything relevant from game theory to mathematics to history delivered because it hit a tag they follow.

Who has time to become an expert on everything? The paradox is that as cross-field research becomes more and more necessary to explain new phenomena, science becomes more specialized. It’s growing deeper and broader at the same time. We’re going to have to figure out how to get faster and more relevant in our acquisition of this knowledge. There’s a lot of technology already in place to help us do this. We just need to combine a few things and iron out the kinks.

There is always the money to think about.

The journals could still charge subscription fees like they always have to sustain themselves, but online delivery eliminates printing costs and overhead. Plus, how many more subscribers could you get for no additional cost? The garage-based amateur political analyst might pay $10 a month, or pay-per-article, to run the numbers himself.

And now this interested rookie with a day job is faster at making connections between things because he’s not teaching a 4/4 course load. Or he might catch something everyone else missed because he’s got different tags and he’s reading different things.

There is money to be made here too, I think, and it could be used to sponsor more research. Use it as a prize for subscribers in some sort of research contest. Or take submissions and buy freelance work. A huge user base would pick this up, so why not make the service one-stop shopping for displaying work and results to encourage more users? Put a forum on the site for subscribers to interact. Or make the whole thing non-profit and redistribute the wealth in lower prices.

This should be easy. So why aren’t we doing it?

Or are we doing it? If so where can I sign up? What’s it look like? And why aren’t we teaching it in freshman Research Methods courses?


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