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January 07, 2011

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Curtisroberts

I think you've published something valuable here both in terms of what it says and in terms of historiography. Academic research in the future will obviously be done quite differently than it was when I was trained. People will discover and publish valuable work, of course, but critical analysis of their research methods will increasingly difficult to do precisely because of the plethora of search engines and methods, which create more chaff to cut through, etc. The exercise you've described here (concerning an important subject) is something I've discovered myself, mostly researching trivial things that interest me. I think you're really onto something here and it would be great to see this made into a more complete research project about the way new technologies can potentially distort our views of history. Curtis

P.S. I love the internet, but when I returned to my college 10 years ago for my 25th reunion and saw that the card catalogues had been replaced by computer terminals that supposedly yielded impeccable information about a book's current circulation status (as you can imagine, that claim was pretty easy to disprove) and that internet access and self-publishing capabilities were instantly available and afforded to everyone in the building, I wondered and worried about the future of academic research and knowledge. What I've learned over the last decade isn't terribly encouraging. C.

Jeff Donlan

It is a discouraging landscape, but there are oases here and there, and there are many people working on this problem. Not everyone sees a "problem," although I'm with you. Publication by Oxford or "Nature" was no guarantee of high quality, but it was a pretty good filter. I've worked at a small public library for 22 years, and the selecting/buying landscape has changed, for sure. We might buy something from Princeton without much hesitation whereas we would look at something from Joe's Garage Press with an arched eyebrow. Now, we are inundated with self-published cr, er, stuff. It's quite unbelievable. And patrons request a lot of it, mostly uncritically, sometimes to get a sale for a friend. We've had to change our approach a lot. Oh, dear, I could go on and on about this, such as about the sad losses of card catalogs vs. the welcome removal of them. (Harvard's, a loss; my library, not so.) Or about the very topic John discussed, the flood of hits on Holocaust denial, and that thought of all those completely uncritical kids clicking on one after the other, cutting and pasting for their reports. Sigh.

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