Doing Research in the 21st Century

We at the Meta-Activism Project are proud to announce the launch of our first major project: the Global Digital Activism Data Set (GDADS). The data set will turn qualitative case studies of digital activism around the world into a non-proprietary quantitative machine-readable research tool. It is an open project, created by volunteers and available to anyone who wants to use it. We have already begun collected case studies and have 111 so far. You can submit one through this online form.

Our goal with GDADS is not only to build knowledge about digital activism (the mission of or organization) but to do so in a new way. In the 21st century openness is the default. It is far easier to free information than to keep it captive, as the music industry and US military are both learning, to their chagrin.

The same is true for academia. The path to academic glory up until this point has been: find a niche, write a dissertation on it, get a PhD, create new ideas that you can get explicit credit for, publish them in peer reviewed journals, then rinse and repeat until you get tenure. This is a reductive view, I admit, and I am not an academic, but many of my friends on the PhD track have expressed frustrations with this system.

I would go further. I believe that the tradition of guarding personal intellectual property in academia – in order to publish it and gain recognition – is actually an obstacle to the creation of knowledge, which is academia’s most noble goal.

This was as true a hundred years ago as it is today, but until a decade ago concealment, not openness, was the default. Whether you were working with pen and ink, a typewriter, or a PC before the age of Internet, your dissertation or conference paper had only a few copies. Creating copies was actually onerous and publication through an academic journal could take months if it was accepted at all.

This is no longer true. Even without posting a dissertation draft in wiki form, which few would dream of doing, it is easy to share ideas in blog format. Many young academics do. Moreover, there is much to be gained from sharing, as sharing on the Internet not only means easy broadcast through posting content, but easy feedback and discourse through comment, email lists, etc.

I understand that the academy still determines honors like tenures and fellowships based on the old system of publication of books and peer- reviewed articles, but I hope young academics will push for changes to this system.

I’d wager that research undertaken by a crowd (or “hive mind“, if you will) produces knowledge that is not only more insightful and more rigorous, but also produces that knowledge more quickly. This is the theory behind the open nature of the GDADS project, at least: free your ideas, and the rest will follow.

Image: Flickr/psd

2 thoughts on “Doing Research in the 21st Century

  1. I have been trying to Gain access to this Blog for a while. I was using Chrome then when I tried Safari, it worked just great? Just wanted to bring this to your attention. London,UK

  2. Estoy completamente de acuerdo en su vision del “Conocimiento gratuito” y del hombre que lo busque sin deseos de un beneficio individual. Y creo en el poder de la Creacion, cuando existen medios.
    Hoy me siento orgullosa de mis decisiones personales sobre este tema. Puedo servir en cualquier campo humano.
    Creo en La Inteligencia de las multitudes humanas.
    Gracias, es camino por andar.

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