Mathias pointed [de] me to a lengthy and partly ridiculous “Report on dangers and opportunities posed by large search engines, particularly Google” by Hermann Maurer [de] (professor at the IICM, Graz) and various co-authors, among them Stefan Weber, whose book [de], I already wrote about [de]. Weber is known as well as Debora Weber-Wulff for detecting plagiarism in academia – a growing problem with the rise of Google and Wikipedia as Weber points out. But in the current study he (and/or his colleauges) produced so much nonsense that I could not let it uncommented.
The study tries to prove a “Google-Wikipedia connection (GWC)”-conspiracy about Wikipedia and Google working together for the bad of us all. Sounds like Daniel Brandt but this is a serious study! I am less interested in the called “Google-Wikipedia connection” (Till Westermayer did better in his posting, see also Jürgen Lübeck [both de]) but on the wrong conclusions the study draws from it:
When people google key terms, they need no brain effort to do research: everybody can type a word or a phrase into a search engine (in former times, one needed basic knowledge about the organisation of a library and the way a keyword catalogue operates, and one needed to work with the so-called “snowball system” to find new fitting literature in the reference lists of already found literature). So there is a clear shift in the field of research towards a research without brains.
I wonder how the study’s authors do research if not by using a search engine from time to time. Especially if you do research about Google or Wikipedia, you are pretty lost if you limit yourself to references in already published peer-reviewed papers. To me the argument unmasks a common angst among traditional researchers: on the Web everyone is allowed to do research, so someone without diploma could do better than someone with diploma! The quote continues:
But there also is another shift [...] Today one must observe countless students copying passages from Wikipedia. Thus a term paper can be produced within a few minutes. Students lose the key abilities of searching, finding, reading, interpreting, writing and presenting a scientific paper with own ideas and arguments, developed after a critical close reading process of original texts.
If you ask your students to create a paper that dozens of people have created before in the same way, then of course they will copy & paste it! It’s in the task formulation: If (and only if!) a question has already been answered in a Wikipedia article, then the solution should contain of nothing but a single link to a specific version. The key abilities is then to find out whether the Wikipedia article is appropriate or not (by the way the authors of the study seem to not know how to cite Wikipedia by article version).
In my opinion there is another shift that many traditional scientists do not understand: A shift from the culture of documents to a culture of networks. It’s similar to the shift from oral culture to written text. I am sure that when script was invented people complained about a loss of ability to memorize. But if you can store text on paper you do not have to memorize all. Same now with the Web: If you can link to a text, you do not have to copy it. You link to a specific version, change it, and the reader can see your contributions in a diff. Ok, there is the problem that inclusion, versioning, diffs, backlinks etc. are not supported very well on the current Web. But the shift from oral culture to culture of documents took far more time, and the Web is still in its infancy (by the way libraries should finally start to deal with archiving and documenting networked documents and collaboration).
The quote ends with a statement that I can partly agree upon:
Instead of that they use Google, Copy & Paste and PowerPoint.
they use Google, Copy & Paste and PowerPoint. Their brains are now contaminated by fragmented Google search terms and the bullet points of PowerPoint. For a critique on PowerPoint see also [Tufte 2006].
Tufte’s critique on PowerPoint is brilliant. But this is another issue and he more criticises bad and unappropriate slides. Of course you have to know your tools and media and how to use them in them right way. It’s the same with talks, research and publications: you can do it right or wrong. Looks like most parts of traditional academia still does it wrong.
If the authors of the study had used a public wiki to collaboratively create the report (=right), you could have found out at least, who wrote the interesting parts and who wrote the crap – but this is not how traditional academia works, where titles and lists of publications are more important than the actual outcome in growth and perfection of knowledge.