Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Misinformation Explosion

We hear the term "information explosion" a good deal these days. Mostly it is in the context of illustrating dramatic increases in scholarly publication and the amount of research and data in general that is being churned out today. This information explosion is certainly one of the defining aspects of the "Information Age" itself, and in most cases the attitude taken seems to be straightforward: the more information, the better.

Today I came across a variant of the term for the first time in an article on authors and scholarly publishing by David Nicholas (et al.). The article quotes an unnamed scholar who comments on the current situation in the publishing world. He or she says that the information explosion is "perhaps better labeled the ‘misinformation’ explosion," and the author feels that with the increase of quantity we have seen a decrease in the quality of scientific works. The result is that researchers wind up wasting time and energy combing through articles that turn out to be worthless, whether due to the issue of duplicate material being produced all too often or simply poor quality of writing and ideas. The quoted author feels that in part the blame lies with publishing companies who are more interested in turning a profit than forwarding scientific knowledge.

The scholar concludes by commenting: "I would rather see a fewer number of journals which publish more substantial and important papers than a plethora of journals which publish poor quality work." This seriously calls into question the beneficial nature of the information explosion which we find ourselves in the middle of today. Is the author simply longing for a simpler, easier time, or can too much information really be a bad thing? Like almost any question (especially in grad. school), I don't think this one has any one specific right answer.

Nicholas, D., Jamali M., H. R., Huntington, P., and Rowlands, I. (2005). In their very own words: authors and scholarly journal publishing. Learned Publishing, 18:212-220.

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