Making it count

Apologies before I begin–as I’ve pointed out before I have my Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and when I was there it was still the bedrock home of empirical research methods. We were learning to conceive of the applications more broadly all the time, but it was the substrate on which everything else seemed to have been built.

I wish knowledge organization were thus. One of the reasons I have been so engaged in the CIDOC-CRM and FRBRoo operations has been the empirical basis on which both ontologies are built.

I often teach doctoral seminars in knowledge organization and I always ask the students to produce original research that will contribute to theory. They do, and I’m proud of the work they do. Often when they ask what sorts of things they ought to study I tell them I read The Economist whenever I travel by air, and that I’m always shaking my head as I read about Prof. this and Dr. that and control group this and factorial experiment that. It seems there is substantial research in the world based on empirical premises. I’m always wondering how we in knowledge organization can get on those pages.

Here is an example from The Economist dated June 22, 2013, p. 83 (Safe Driving: Keep your mind on the road) (I was in Portland, Oregon, for my 40th reunion at Lewis & Clark College), about hand’s-free texting and how it is more distracting that using a mobile phone. Some folks at the University of Utah divided 102 volunteers into three groups and asked them to perform a set of tasks. They wore a hat that recorded mental workload. And among the groups the treatment variable that shifted was what they did–nothing, listening to a radio, phoning a friend, texting, etc. Some sat at computers, some used simulators, and some were in actual motor vehicles. Talk about a factorial experiment! Brilliant!

I’ll leave it to you to discover the results in The Economist. But let’s think about this sort of work in our own domain. It is rare indeed. Notable exceptions include La Barre’s testing of facets in online catalogs and Milonas’ partial replication of it. We have a lot of excellent descriptive research including my own work on instantiation and Greenberg’s replication of it among botanists; and Kipp’s landmark work on social tagging.

Let’s take up the cause of creating more experimental work. Let’s get in The Economist. (The closest I’ve come so far, was my study showing that social taggers display a bandwagon effect, which was picked up by the Globe and Mail from a CAIS conference, but they didn’t ever report on whatever it was that attracted their attention.


Posted July 14, 2013 by lazykoblog in research

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