Here at the Meta-Activism Project I frequently write about the need for better methodologies for understanding digital activism. The endless stream of disconnected case studies and un-winnable debates between optimists and pessimists just aren’t cutting it anymore.
Because I now find myself to be a methodology geek, I was really happy to see this analysis of old and new research methods in this month’s Wired. The article is about how Google co-founder Sergey Brin is using the massive computational power his company made famous to crunch data on Parkinson’s disease, which he has a 50% of developing later in life. His goal is to find a cure.
At left is a rad info-graphic of how Sergey and the National Institute of Health produced one study on Parkinson’s. While Sergey used computers to parse his results and released them as soon as the analysis was done, the NIH went the traditional route of multiple studies, data-crunching by a statistician, and journal-based peer-review for publication. They reached the same result: Sergey in 8 months and the NIH in 6 years.
Self-publication on the Internet has ended the monopoly of academic journals over the publication of research findings. Though these journals certainly impart credibility, other entities, like Google, can now serve the same purpose. Also, it is sometimes in the public interest to simply get ideas out there instead of waiting months or years for a gatekeeper’s seal of approval. This was the original idea between Research@DigiActive which, during its brief lifespan, published original research on digital activism.
The field of digital activism needs better methodology, but exactly what that methodology should be is still open for debate and exploration. (There is more to life than multivariate linear regression.) I hope that the Meta-Activism Project will not only build new knowledge, but develop new methods for doing so.