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Start Ten Tips for Researchers Surfing the Web
11 June 2013

Ten Tips for Researchers Surfing the Web

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For the researchers of the future research is a fundamental task. We sail in a huge sea of information. And in the new ocean of information the land cannot be distinguished from some floating islands or dangerous territories. The researcher is looking for knowledge that is appropriate for generating hypotheses. This is simply separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to concepts. For this reason, in the face of the flood of information that began some decades ago with the advent of the Internet, and continues with transformations such as digital publishing, it is essential for professionals to be able to distinguish, process and interpret the information. Here are some initial tips.

  1. Be distrustful of bad spelling, it’s like bad weather. And also of bad writing. Although these may seem to be more formal issues, if you take time to post serious information, you will also take time to pay attention to its presentation.
  2. We cannot read everything. The vast amount of information available on the Internet sometimes creates such an overflow that our perception capacity is reduced. This is a paradoxical phenomenon that needs to be addressed calmly.
  3. Google (sometimes) looks like a magnifying glass, rather than a telescope. Search engines do help, but they also confuse and not only because of the excess of information, but rather the opposite. With their eagerness to customize the inquiry, some search engines create a bottleneck effect that restricts the investigation to the history of searches we have conducted, or a series of algorithms. They also tend to focus on news or the most successful pages.
  4. Tweets and the notices on the Facebook wall are not messages in bottles floating in the sea. They are more like sheets of paper that sink in the water, and that’s why we need to pay attention to their reading, since many of them provide valuable information that needs to be dealt with before it is lost.
  5. There are islands of information waste all over, like those islands of floating plastic debris in the ocean. By way of comparison, if truthful information is land in this electronic navigation, there is a lot of useless information, many repetitions, many hoaxes and assumptions. The Greeks made a clear distinction between confirmed knowledge (episteme) and mere opinion (doxa), and there is more of the latter than the former on the Internet. The problem here is not only the copy, but the confusion it generates. One example: the inquiries about medical matters. If they are not confirmed by a reputable scientific source, they will be useless or may even harm somebody.
  6. There are also paradisaical islands. And this is one of the challenges facing any smart Internet user. It we find a page with good references, with solid facts (that endure over time) and with aesthetics and agile graphics, it’s a place we need to return to repeatedly. And that’s what the binnacle is for, which can be the search engine’s tabs.
  7. Any text has an author. This, which is a platitude, is sometimes forgotten. Authorship provides a crucial value to any text, namely the responsibility for it. This is what the entire history of thought is based on (in a sense): someone said something new at a given time and it became fixed. Once we clearly obtain the responsibility for what has been said, we will have confirmed that we are standing on a continent.
  8. Careful with synonyms. Search engines are not people, and they do not deduce, but encode information. That’s why it’s important to try to clarify as much as possible the data we enter in the search engine. Search programs use algorithms to be successful, and the words we enter have no specific meaning for the computer, they are simply a set of numbers they need to locate. That’s why when we run a search, grammar accuracy is only useful if we want to find the exact phrase. Faced with this complexity and even if it seems contradictory, it’s useful to have a good thesaurus, since the more variations a word has, more possibilities will we have of looking for the concept we want to find.
  9. It is therefore always advisable to have a clear notion of the language’s variations in each region. In Spanish, atarse los cordones has the same meaning as amarrarse los pasadores, namely to tie your shoes, but not all Spaniards or Latin Americans know this, and in English cookies have more varieties than flavors. If we write “grifo” in a search engine in Lima we’ll get a list of gas stations in the region, while the same word in Madrid will produce a list relating to plumbing.
  10. Return to the old research methods adapting them to modern times. Still today, the best help for knowing who and when someone discovered something new are scientific magazines and books, bibliographic references and the old publishing houses that produced physical books. And if they’re present on the Internet, even better. The researcher’s task is to learn, compare and, as far as possible, post new knowledge on the Internet.

 

Ángel Pérez Martínez

Research Professor, University of the Pacific, Lima (Peru)

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