The Bigger Picture

In David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know, he further discusses the largely disputed topic about having knowledge creation and circulation being based upon networked and open systems. Scientists, and scholars in general, really have no issues coming about with new factual information, but it’s the issue of connecting those newfound facts together. Bernard K. Forscher in his letter, titled “Chaos in the Brickyard,” describes that the issue within the new generation of scientists as one in which they were too preoccupied churning out ‘bricks’ of new information rather than indebting themselves to creating a solid, big picture (124). I could not agree more.

The Internet, in and of itself, is actually extremely hard to navigate because works of academia lie behind defense walls of closed source and open source systems, in which creates a fragmented picture of research based upon a particular topic. Strangely, this is not new to our society. Newton’s method to solve nonlinear equations was believed to be first discovered by Joseph Raphson fifty years before Newton, lost in the abyss of papers published without the advantages of open source accessibility. James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins could not have the Nobel Prize if it were not for Rosalind Franklin’s x-ray diffraction work in the 1950s, yet many history books fail to mention the importance of her work. I am not arguing that such scholars should have removed recognition, but rather I am making the claim that a lot of research goes unnoticed due to the lack of connections to their work and the difficulty of overcoming the impact factor pressure still enforced by academic institutions.

Is there a way to solve such an issue? Not exactly. Particularly, I like the approach of Jean-Claude Bradley, an associate professor of chemistry at Drexel University, who began a blog called “UsefulChem” to document his research with chemical compound reactions against the malaria strain (139). Although it may be difficult to search for it and it may not be dependable upon credibility, I believe it is important to publish research as it is in progress. For diseases that impact populations in poverty or it impacts small populations (visit https://www.rarediseases.org to browse the numerous rare disorders and diseases that lack funding), it is hard to receive grants for research because it is not deemed profitable. Negative results are still results that may eventually lead the way to a cure.

We are now presented the opportunity to crowdsource and work together as a community to answer the many questions that having been plaguing mankind for centuries, yet we are still ruled by a system that demands a price tag for the knowledge presented to the public sphere. Open source information is important, but I am hungry for more. As an academic myself, it is inevitable in the process of research to encounter several sources that require payments or even special permission to use their own research. We undoubtedly have come from a long way in terms of open source accessibility, but there is much more that needs to be done.

 

Final Blog Post on Too Big to Know.

“What we’ve discussed so far in this book should lead us to hypothesize that scientific knowledge is taking on properties of its new, becoming, like the network in which it lives: (1) huge, (2) less hierarchical, (3) more continuously public, (4) less centrally filtered, (5) more open to differences, and (6) hyperlinked.” Weinberger (153)

Chapter eight’s focus is on whether leadership and decision making is affected by the networked Net. The answer is yes. Weinberger states that “because the new generation is having its expectations set by its Net experiences, decisions within hierarchies will increasingly take on characteristics of decisions made by networks” (Too Big to Know, 170). Leadership is now shifting to the group being led instead of being the responsibility of a single authority. “The change has occurred in part because the Net has made people more familiar with the benefits of connecting across hierarchical lines” says Weinberger (Too Big to Know, 161). On that account, the benefit is of having a fresh pair of eyes. Not long ago, it came to my attention that there is a noticeable differentiation in the way the Baby Boomer generation thinks compared to the Millenial generation. The distinction can be found in political views, religious views, social views, all the way down to eating habits. For example, I recently had a conversation with my boyfriend’s mother in which she disclosed to me how she is having a hard time convincing herself that she does not need a bread, a starch, a meat, and a vegetable at every meal because that was the frame of mind she was taught by her parents to have in regards to dinner. I found her predicament rather interesting compared to the eating habits of my generation. I find that my generation is not stuck in a set pattern, and I accredit that to the information on the internet. How is the internet changing the way my generation interacts with the world?   By giving us an overload of information through open access publishing and crowdsourcing that forces us to look closer and decide if what we currently believe is really the best choice out there. To offer a small sample to the scale I am talking about the way the internet affects how we think, several of my friends have joined the trend of an alternative eating style, such a Vegan, vegetarian, or Paleolithic. This is owed largely to the fact that the internet offers blogs and recipes that make being vegan look like the best choice, but there are sites for every eating style. Ultimately, the user chooses on their own. This is a departure from being affixed to one train of thought.

It was while I was watching two politicians, who of course were from the Baby Boomer generation, discuss an issue through horse blinders that I formulated my hypothesis that the internet is responsible for changing the way my generation confronts the world. I could most certainly be wrong, but I am of the opinion that an increasing number of Millennials are more open minded. This is because we get our information from more sources from an earlier age, not just passed down to us from our parents or from a single news station. Yes, the open knowledge aspect of the internet can get messy, but this is what shows us how diverse the opinions all around the world are; and because my generation is growing up in this era, we are not as stubborn to change our views when we find information contradicting what we had previously thought to be truth. Weinberger says in chapter nine that knowledge is a “web of connections that shows itself to us depending on our starting point, viewpoint, and inescapably human sense of what matters to us” (Too Big to Know, 180), and then several pages later, he adds that “we make ourselves stupid when we restrict ourselves to tolerating only the mildest disruptions of our comfort. For the Net to maximize its capacity for knowledge, then, we need to push past our urge to stick with people like us” (192). I do not believe the internet is making us stupid, I believe it is our resistance to change and our possessiveness of our prejudices. I agree with Weinberger that “If we want the Net to move knowledge forward, then we need to educate our children from the earliest possible age about how to use the Net, how to evaluate knowledge claims, and how to love difference” (192).