Google Scholar and the literature glut

November 12, 2011

From Clive Thompson of Wired Magazine

We’re often told that young people tend to be the most tech-savvy among us. But just how savvy are they? A group of researchers led by College of Charleston business professor Bing Pan tried to find out. Specifically, Pan wanted to know how skillful young folks are at online search. His team gathered a group of college students and asked them to look up the answers to a handful of questions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the students generally relied on the web pages at the top of Google’s results list.

But Pan pulled a trick: He changed the order of the results for some students. More often than not, those kids went for the bait and also used the (falsely) top-ranked pages. Pan grimly concluded that students aren’t assessing information sources on their own merit—they’re putting too much trust in the machine.

Now I’m a *huge* fan of Google Scholar. When I am writing a paper or grant, Google Scholar, my university library’s page, and my second brain DevonThink  all stand at the ready. This is because I do much of my reading while in the process of writing. Writing exposes the holes in my understanding. So when I go to Google Scholar to find out what’s what, and I get the inevitable list of 3000 entries for, say, “thermal ecology ants”, which ones do I pay attention to?  Read the rest of this entry »


Know your brain: the just world bias

November 12, 2011

Academics spend much of their lives inside their head, mulling cause and affect, conjuring experiments, weighing options. This quiet time is absolutely essential. But what if are we aren’t seeing clearly?  What if our logic is weighted toward one conclusion? What if our mental mirror has defects, or, worse, is of the funhouse variety?

As scientists we design experiments to minimize bias. Indeed science as a way of knowing acknowledges bias and attempts to circumvent it. We have one, often unacknowledged ally in this cause, experimental psychologists.

Now, I know, many associate psychology with the treatment–effective or not–of mental illness. But one of the most useful products of psychological research is the uncovering of inborn biases–the defects in the lenses through which our brains perceive the world. Our wiring, evolved on the plains of Africa, rejiggered in clans, tribes, and societies, is that which allowed our ancestors to survive, not necessarily to see the world clearly.

We are semi-rational beings. How do we avoid being run over by the Semi?

We need to know our biases so we can work to circumvent them. We need to know our student’s biases so we can work, as teachers, to circumvent them.

And so I introduce an occasional series called: “Know your brain”.  Read the rest of this entry »