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?
It is not the first entry. I still, frankly, don’t grok the page rank in Google Scholar. But I can be reasonably certain that there will be entries on the first page worth paying attention to. I focus on three criteria in roughly the following order: who, title, and where.
- If I know and admire the work of the authors, I check it out (in this case, Cerda, Bestlemeyer, Porter, natch).
- If the title is interesting, I check it out (Thermal ecology of the neotropical army ant…), golly how did I *miss* that.
- If the work is published in a journal that I read regularly, I check it out (Ecology, JAE, Oecologia, Functional Ecology, natch).
To beginning grad students rules 2 and 3 work right off the bat. Rule 1, in contrast, takes some experience.
This is a huge thing. Science is now in an age of abundance, where the rules you use to filter through the literature glut are more important than ever.
What rules do all y’all use?