Evolution or revolution

Lively welcome here at ScienceBlogs, I must say. Two posts, a soft launch, and eighteen comments already!

The comments have turned up a question deserving of further discussion. On my first post, commenter Jim Lund said:

E-research? Why make a distinction? Today there's only e-research and archaeology. :)

And on my second, commenter rnb said:

Computers have been used to investigate circuit behavior since I was in college back in the 70s. So should engineers be called e-engineers?

Not trying to put words in their mouths here, but it seems to me they're getting at the same question about how we talk about e-research: evolution or revolution?

I've done both, myself. I talk in evolutionary terms with my librarian colleagues, because librarians are frankly weary of revolution-talk. It just works better to talk in terms of what we already do. You can see me trying to keep things low-key and jocular in this slideshow I did for the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee:

When do I go all revolutionary? When I'm talking to those who hold the purse-strings. Even if e-research is the normal course of things in a few disciplines, in most it's not. This means that resource provisioning hasn't happened yet in a lot of cases—and a message of "we're already doing this and just haven't realized it!" won't get dollars and staff time allocated.

(In fact, I think some aspects of e-research, notably data curation, are dangerously underprovisioned, and we'll pay for it later… but that's for another post.)

But I don't get as revolutionary as some folks do. The Digital Humanities Manifesto, while I know and respect some of its authors—honestly, it reads to me like concentrated wacky sauce. I can't imagine it convincing an old-school historian or literary scholar, much less a dean or provost, that the digital humanities are a pursuit worthy of prestige and (more compellingly) resources.

I have a feeling—and it's no more than that; I don't know—that the Manifesto comes out of a place of deep frustration. Believe me, I understand frustration, having run institutional repositories for over four years. The most unwise things I do happen when frustration boils over. On that scale, the Manifesto barely rates. It's just bravado, not especially damaging… I hope.

The moral of the story (and I say this as shouldn't) is that we e-research types do need to think about how we present ourselves and our endeavors. We may not choose the same words; we may not even be consistent about the words we choose and use. Eyes on the prize, however. Some words will help us more than others.

What words do you use? To whom? Why?


More like this

I am furloughed today and going out of town, so here, have an early tidbits post. I won't be at the iPRES 2009 conference, but I do recommend looking over the program; it gives a pretty good overview of what digital preservationists think about and study, and what keeps them awake at night. (…
That would be the question, wouldn't it. Unfortunately, such fundamental definitions are never simple to create, and even less simple to agree upon. A little history may help explain how we got into this parlous uncertain state, but it may not get us out of it. The short version of the history (…
The publisher Information Today runs a good and useful book series for librarians who find themselves with job duties they weren't expecting and don't feel prepared for. There's The Accidental Systems Librarian and The Accidental Library Marketer (that one's new) and a whole raft of other accidents…
A common problem adduced in e-research (not just e-research, but it does come up quite a bit here) is expertise location, both local and global. You need a statistician. Or (ahem) a metadata or digital-preservation expert. Or a researcher in an allied area. Or a researcher in a completely different…

Welcome to scienceblogs.
Just one comment on the slideshow:
Isn't it important to release both data and a graph/chart to go with it? Graphs/Charts, while they do not provide in depth details about the data, are far more useful for quickly grasping overall trends of data.

Additionally, I would like to hear your opinion on copyright problems in e-research. Personally, I am sickened by our Copyright laws, and they have conflicted with my informal research so often that I torrent many science journals if I absolutely need them, and simply don't have access.

Personally, I believe that information cannot be owned, and thus should be free to access/non-copyrightable.

Yes, graphs and charts are useful, no question about it. They are not, however, a substitute for the underlying data in many contexts, which is all I was trying to get across.

I can definitely talk about copyright in this context, and I will. You might be interested in Corynne McSherry's book Who Owns Academic Work?, and also James Boyle's The Public Domain.

Another librarian added to the stable. Sci-blogs must be really bookin'...

But academic librarian? As in the phrase "It's all academic..." or "Academically speaking..."? Does that mean you don't really _do_ anything?!

Librarianship tends to divide itself by the type of library one works in. I work for a university, and therefore I am generally called an "academic librarian." There are also public librarians, special librarians (subdivided into law librarians, corporate librarians, and other librarians), and archivists (who don't call themselves librarians if they can possibly help it, but are generally educated in library schools).

As for my sloth or lack thereof... you'd have to ask my colleagues. 'Scuse me, I have to go write code...

Welcome to scienceblogs.
Just one comment on the slideshow:
Isn't it important to release both data and a graph/chart to go with it? Graphs/Charts, while they do not provide in depth details about the data, are far more useful for quickly grasping overall trends of data.

Of course! I'm certainly not calling for a moratorium on graphs or charts.

But we *have* graphs and charts in great numbers. We don't have raw data in great quantity... yet. :)