Growing Knowledge: what is the future of research?


Disclaimer: Live blogging

Growing Knowledge: what is the future of research?


A Times Higher Education debate hosted by the British Library, featuring Matthew Gamble, David Gauntlett, Alex Krotoski, Ben Hickey and chaired by Phil Baty.

Phil Baty starts the debate: it is fundamentally about the way that IT will profoundly change the nature of research. Introduces the speakers.


(A-level student)

Has grown up surrounded by network technologies and assumes they will be crucial at his time at university. he ponders however whether the research collaboration between people and computers might lead more traditional people to question the validity of his work because the boundaries between him as researcher and technology are indeterminate. [Cyborg researcher?]. perhaps universities, because of their traditional outlook, may hinder learning and research. On the other hand maybe technology creates too narrow a vision and the voice of experience from earlier times can shed revealing light on a problem. Points to a problem – younger people with whom Hickey spoke are largely uninterested in universities and research, seeing it as irrelevant and distanced from the real-world problems they face.

What is revealing about Hickey’s contribution is the way in which someone who have grown up with technologies of networks, intelligent agents and so on construes the role of technology in research: as something that, in effect, stands OUTSIDE of the normal practices of researchers and potentially enables research and learning directly from / with computing code, without human (academic) intervention


(PhD candidate)

Mismatch between the potential that technology provides (connectivity, immediacy and scale) and what is current normal practice in academic research. this potential is, however, what causes the problems as well. The web might become the “invisible college” which promotes the circulation of scholarly literature outside of the norms of academic journal publishing and, indeed, the formal structures of universities.

Provides example of crowd-sourcing data analysis within Galaxy Zoo project where large amounts of data was given to many individuals online for them to do mciro-analysis of data, out of interest in the subject. discovered things which the researchers were not even aware they should be looking for.

Gamble’s critique of traditional science is important: he reveals that lurking within the technologies of network collaboration is, in fact, a deeply ideological project towards openness and altruism. Open science, while often construed as made possible through the Internet and similar tools, is more about a reaction against the institutionalised narrow and profit-oriented sciences which have emerged over the past fifty years

Notes the resistance of scientists who resist open data (the so-called “selfish scientist”) and who are obsessed with publishing, not finding things out. “Altruism is quickly beaten out of young scientists”. So, there are tools for collaboration but are not used significantly.

Concludes by calling for a different mode of publishing: it’s not just open publishing, but also publishing of data, the methods, processes, the discussions about projects and so on.


Discussing Web 2.0 and scholarship. Ponders the reality of such technology in the real world, outside of the world of enthusiasts (such as myself I should admit). Recounts how she spoke with phd students as they commenced their studies – almost none of them had any kind of online presence, definitely not blogging and so on. Students told her that they were discouraged by their supervisors from being online and open. They certainly were not taught about how to do it. this was, from the traditional perspective, ‘wrong’.

So, she continues, what of the future? She emphasises the validity of blogs or similar: ideas can be trialled and discussed with peers, useful self-promotion (on the basis of quality, not spin), writing becomes a habit and reflection possible. Krotoski views scientific / technological research in the USA, where this use of social media and Web 2.0 is more prominent, as being influenced by industry, who are not interested in long-term peer review publishing but rapid and iterative publishing of ideas and their development.

I wonder if there needs to be greater discrimination between types of ‘web 2.0′ use [which I had discussed with Aleks before the event, so no criticism here]. This discrimination is, pretty much, about identifying the unkown, but useful tools of the web which, probably, critics of ‘web 2.0′ use but don’t realise these tools could, from another perspective, be seen as web 2.0

K. comes back to key point: how do we trust what is online; is it valid and reliable; how can we assess that? Normal position emphasised — it’s about training people to have that capacity to assess. Baty contributes a point: traditional publishing filters the content to give it more reliability.


Online publishing and distribution of information is very useful, even required, for academics. Open publishing helps the world and is ethically required; it is great, too, for academics because it makes them self-reliant. moreover, the web and similar tools makes academics public intellectuals again, rather than closeted.

scholarly publishing — from a time when distribution was very limited, and filters needed because of low bandwidth. G. has a great view on the failures of the peer-review system because it assumes reviewers are entirely uninvested in the outcome except from a rational scientific perspective. Perhaps academics can do the filtering themselves by using what is good, from their view.

Gauntlett noted he first built a website in 1997; some of the most keen advocates for web 2.0 and knowledge networking are often longer-term Internet users who, perhaps, have understood the web more from a self-creative perspective?

debate now ensues

Something of a confusion emerges from the discussion between the academics about peer review – there’s a slight problem with comparing and contrasting peer review with complete ‘openness’ (eg Twitter). In fact, the discussion might more usefully concern the reshaping of peer review so that it is more productive, in improving and expanding work in a supportive manner. One example is the peer review process of Critical Studies in Peer Production.

Question from audience regarding new kinds of research methods which the Internet might produce. — too much data produces new methods; online behaviour produces new methods; nice contradiction between Gamble enthusing about the Semantic Web vs Krotoski worried about the missing human condition.

Gauntlett makes an interesting comment — it appears that crowd-sourcing can elevate people to being partners in science (as in the Galaxy Zoo), “citizen scientists”; this is like citizen journalists and so on. I read this as another example of the meme/trope of participation and democracy which is ideally or occasionally true but, in fact, is a general mythos within which hierarchies and elites persist.