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Location: Kyoto and Auckland
Work interests: research, editing, ethnobotany, prehistory, plant genetics
Affiliation/website: National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka
Preferred contact method: Any
Preferred contact language(s): English, German
Contact: email = researchcooperative-at-gmail-dot-com
Favourite publications: Aroideana, Economic Botany, Farming Matters, PLoSOne

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Work: ethnobotany, plant ecology and genetics, human ecology, agricultural history, archaeology, museology
Affiliations: 1996-present: National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka. 1995: Freelance editor, Kyoto. 1994: JSPS Research Visitor, Kyoto University, Kyoto. 1993: Research Visitor, Australian National University, Canberra. 1991: Visiting Researcher, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka.1990: STA Fellow, National Institute for Ornamental Plants, Vegetables, and Tea (NIVOT), Ano, Japan
Contact: National Museum of Ethnology, Senri Expo Park, Suita City, Osaka, Japan 565-8511
Biographical: Established the Research Cooperative in 2001
Favourite Publications: Economic Botany, Ethnobotany Research and Applications, New Scientist, Minpaku Anthropology Newsletter, Archaeology in Oceania

Information overload?

2012-08-31
By: Research Cooperative
Posted in: Online

Hmmm... I wonder. There is definitely a vast amount of information circulating in the world, in different media, with different speeds. There are also many commentators.

Despite the general situation, the theme of research communication, or academic communication, seems to barely register in the cacophony of news and comment. It is hardly ever discussed in depth by research organisations, so why should the general public be concerned?

Whenever something unusual happens in the world, journalists often turn to an academic or other research specialist for some deeper insight into what is happening. Researchers are expected to know stuff, but how we know stuff is largely a mystery to most people in the world. The general public does not read our journals, and for many journals, there are not many academic readers either!

What exactly is happening to all the information we produce? There is some discussion going on about production and distribution... print vs online, subscription services vs free, open access. But what is happening to information when it reaches us? How much do we actually read? How does the quality of writing affect our intake? Our attention and understanding? What happens when poorly written research is studied by someone for whom the research language is a second language?

We experience not only information overload, but also information resistance. Consciously and unconsciously, we are selective in our reading. We have to be.

For teaching, for research, for writing, we have to sift through our information sources, including our own original observations and ideas, and somehow integrate it all into our own writings and presentations.

When all the ingredients are boiled down, there may not be much information in the mix after all.

Authors repeat themselves. Authors come to the same conclusions as other authors, by different routes. Each paper we read may actually add just a little new information to what is already known.

Putting new information in context and repeating information published elsewhere is necessary, but the balance is critical for good writing and happy reading.

Information that is repeated can also more easily be found... hence the republication of historic key papers in edited anthologies.

My conclusion is not that we are experiencing information overload. We are experiencing information clutter.

There is a world of difference between a well-selected anthology of great papers, and journal full of 'new' papers that are padded with information from other sources, and lacking in original content.

My hope is that the Research Cooperative will help improve the information:clutter ratio in publishing.

That way, we can help maintain the role of research as a source of new information and understanding in society generally.

For many issues of concern to society, information is sorely lacking!

Our goal is to help reduce clutter, and improve the quality of information that we provide, for each other (as members of diverse research communities), and for the world at large.

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