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Introduction to Literature

Information Creation as a Process

Anyone can publish anything. So where content is published is important.  

To publish a blog you only need access to the internet, a free email address, and a free platform.

On the other extreme you have publishing companies with very strict peer-review, and content review policies.  It is hard to get published through these platforms, so getting through the vetting process and being published with them gives implied authority to your content.

Creation of content can vary from stream of consciousness babbling   -  to years- or decades-long research that is collected, analyzed, and interpreted by large or small groups of experts.

Scholarship as Conversation

Librarians often refer to the process of research and presentation as a conversation.  For any topic, a number of conversations are going on, like at a party. 

When a student starts to research a topic, they are joining the party late. People already at the party are talking about what they know, and comparing notes.  Some disagree with others.  It is an ongoing event. 

When the student enters the party, they need to know some field specific jargon & background information to understand the conversations.

It is important to always give credit for borrowed content, opinions, facts, etc.  Keep notes on sources from the beginning of a project.

Authority Is Constructed and Contextual

When a new researcher joins the party, they have usually missed many of the earlier conversations, so they need to review the background conversations to understand the current conversations going on at the party. (Background research for context.)

Humans are only human, so they are not perfect. Not all information is equally useful or accurate.  

  • Scientists try to be objective and to collect data without letting hopes and expectations influence their work.
  • However, humans have conscious and unconscious biases that influence their observations.
  • People are susceptible to emotional manipulation and logic tricks.
  • Even being aware of this weakness does not always protect you from falling into logic traps.
  • The people at the party are variable in their methods, goals, accuracy, and delivery.

NOTE: Take social media popularity with caution.  Some researchers are better at promoting their point of view, but that does not make their research better or worse. Some people get cited more often because they are better at getting noticed.  Google is a popularity contest, not necessarily a quality contest.

Peer-review is the best standard we have to judge the accuracy and value of content.  It is not perfect, however, since "peer-review" standards vary. 

The best way to judge information is to get many viewpoints and look for areas of agreement AND Be open to changing your mind.

Research as Inquiry & Searching as Strategic Exploration

This is my favorite part!  You start with a question, then you see what is out there.  Then you re-formulate your question or add new paths of inquiry. If you find "nothing" you need to consider synonyms and jargon.  If you still are not finding anything, ask other researchers in the field or expert searchers like librarians.  

Information Has Value

When judging content: follow the money.  Who pays for content and publishing will tell you a lot about possible personal and institutional conflicts of interest.  Even if there are no declared conflicts of interest, such as corporate funding, there are still conflicts due to inherent and hidden biases.

  • "Who benefits from this content being published?" 
  • "What does the author risk if they publish misinformation or inaccurate information?"   

Avoid information from a source that is not risking anything by providing misleading information. We now have publishers that actually thrive on providing misinformation by taking advantage of people and their tendency to act a certain way when upset.  

Bias indicators by common domain:

.gov - May want to protect their job and justify taxes spent on government projects. May want to educate the public for the good of the community they live in.  Bias tends towards lots of statistics to analyze, try to improve, or justify, procedures and processes. 

.edu - Reputation = more students & grant money = survival.  Everyone trying to look and act their best.  When desperate for status, individuals or groups may make unprofessional decisions, but overall educational institutions are biased towards providing the best and most current information available to them.

.org - Bias may be to outright sell you an idea, promote a cause, or provide a cover for a commercial, spiritual, or political campaign.  Use with caution. Follow the money.

Be wary of emotional appeals for action.  Emotion obscurs logical thinking and often leads to impulsive action.  

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