Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The state of research

Having just submitted a thesis, I have a small amount of experience in the area of research. I am, by no means, an expert in the practice.

(This is just the lead in to the point where I pontificate as though I am an expert)

But I have noticed that the trend of research has moved. I'm not going to complain about it, but I feel inspired to note the shift in data sources. Whereas my paper on Kierkegaard and Badiou will be evaluated on, among other things, the quality of sources in my bibliography, I see that this is not a requirement for government documents. I flipped through the US Department of Labor report on Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor and was immediately impressed with the size of the bibliography. In a 194 page document, the bibliography begins on page 61 and continues to page 192. More than 130 pages of references.

Most of the references, however, are URLs. They're all correctly cited with the date of access and so forth, but they're still URLs. This is a masterpiece of modern research, having made use of the legwork of so many other departments, journals, NGOs and others, the Department of Labor has only to click away and read in order to get the information.

In academic circles, a bibliography like this would be viewed dubiously. Such standards don't apply to government papers, it seems. My reactions have been varied.
"This is just lazy research."

"The standards of government reports have declined."

"This is the way of the future."

"Where is the peer review?"

"Would someone earn a postgraduate degree with a bibliography like this? And when would this become acceptable methodology?"
As you can see, it's a clash of ideas for me - especially after submitting a thesis to an academic body. I'm keen to see where this goes for academia. At some point, the extensive use of online references will need to be handled and understood, and not merely tolerated as a necessary evil.
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