Coping with overabundance as a scientist

We are in an era of overabundance. Many of the problems we face — spam, information overload, obesity, pollution — are actually the result of overabundance.

Scientists need new strategies:

  • Create fast, discard faster.
  • Aim for quality. When people have too much content, they want quality.
  • Focus and live in niches.
  • Produce shorter papers. People want to learn a specific facts. Make it easy for them to find them.
  • Use formats that are easy to index. Paper is terrible. Slides, voice and video are not very good. Digital text in simple formats is better.
  • Make your work easy to find: nobody has time to mail order.
  • Be agile: always be ready to change focus. There are just too many new opportunities!

Reference: Ann Blair, Reading Strategies for Coping With Information Overload ca. 1550-1700, Journal of the History of Ideas 64.1 (2003) 11-28.

2 thoughts on “Coping with overabundance as a scientist”

  1. There’s that old saying which often comes to my mind, “Speak only if you can improve upon the silence”.

    Every time you speak, every time you write, your are making a demand on the receivers of your message. You are asking for some of their most valuable resources – time and attention.

    I think information producers (authors, etc.) ought to feel they have a responsibility to ensure that their production will be seen by people who are interested in it *and* not pushed in front of people who have no interest in it.

    Concretely, this means ensuring your stuff is smartly summarized, indexed, tagged, searchable, and richly & meaningfully interconnected with genuinely related stuff (be it written by yourself or others).

    Ideally there shouldn’t be a lot of redundance between the various pieces of your output – I’ve run into sets of papers that could easily each have been split into smaller chunks that are reused across papers, saving everyone time.

    Just making the effort to write in a concise but accessible style could really help people figure out quickly if they want to dig into what you’ve written.

    The work of connecting pieces of information/knowledge together where the connection is meaningful and hasn’t been made before is valuable.

    People need to act as public filters as much as possible. The sifting is tremendously improved (the noise level goes way down) once you can rely on a network of trusted filters.

    Efforts at connecting and filtering are rewarded more nowadays, thanks to weblogs & co., but there is still a long way to go.

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