Some things read lately, or, new shit has come to light

This blog used to have a “feature” entitled “Some Things Read This Week” but I ended it before my blogging dropped completely from sight. With no promises one way or the other I’d like to start blogging again about some of the things I read.

As I said a couple of posts back:

I am ramping back up the work on my CAS thesis via several angles of attack. I am working on the paper proper and I am also working on a journal article, which will be highly related (as in with a little reworking can become a chapter), and I am thinking about trying to come up with a presentation for a conference in early December. The conference is “Semantics for Robots: Utopian and Dystopian Visions in the Age of the ‘Language Machine’. ‘The Language Machine’ is one of Roy Harris’ early books, of course.

Thus, I am reading and taking notes again. Along with trying to “reconstruct” work I have done previously, I am also continuing to pursue these interests further, along with pursuing other interests. In these areas I am also reading and taking notes. Having not written much of anything in quite a while I need to get assorted writing chops back in order, be it annotated bibliographic entries, blog posts, general and specialized note taking, summarizing, journal article(s), or CAS thesis.

So I am going to jump in again. Any feedback is appreciated whether on style, further reading suggestions, etc.

The first article I want to discuss is:

Dill, E. A., & Janke, K. L. (2010). “New shit has come to light”: Information seeking behavior in The Big Lebowski. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1805/2099 [pre-peer reviewed version of a forthcoming article in The Journal of Popular Culture.]

No doubt, many of you saw references to the Dill & Janke article over the last two weeks. Many people, understandably, could not help themselves in mentioning it in one venue or the other. “New shit has come to light” as the title of an academic paper is worth mentioning in its own right, but assuming you get the reference to The Big Lebowski then you doubly could not help yourself. I can appreciate that. And do. So a quick shout out to the two folks I first saw reference it, Dorothea Salo and Christina Pikas [although probably saw the 1st references in twitter].

The first, and perhaps most important, thing I want to say about this article is that I am glad this is going into The Journal of Popular Culture. It is about time some of the research from our field shows up in other places besides our own stodgy journals. Now, I’d much prefer that other LIS research made its way where it is needed and that it was actually being cited and used in other fields. This, though, is a small start. If no one in another field is aware of our work then they cannot and will not use it. And to my knowledge JPC is pretty interdisciplinary.

This article, as noted above, is a preprint of the prior-to-peer-review paper. It will be interesting to see what changes have been made once it is in print. I am looking forward to reading it again for that reason alone.

The paper uses four characters from The Big Lebowski to highlight some differences in information seeking behavior, going from least effective to most. Along the way the authors use assorted LIS literature on information seeking behavior to support their analysis of these characters styles and methods. Or as they say, “This paper analyzes the information seeking behaviors of Donny Kerabatsos, Walter Sobchak, The Dude, and Maude Lebowski through the lenses of a variety of information seeking theories and models” (pp. 2-3).

Their claim is that “The film’s most important contribution to the study of information seeking behavior is its illustration of how a highly complex information search is not about finding the “answer,” but rather is about an individual’s ability to make sense of and create meaning from the process of information seeking (Dervin par. 8)” (p. 2). This I certainly agree with, both the author’s claim and Dervin’s. “Answers” frequently come along for the ride but then an answer is whatever one is willing to (currently) accept as an answer. This is true whether the one is an individual or a social group of any size.

Some of the assorted theories, models, and researchers used to illustrate the characters information seeking behaviors are the following [for the record, some of these are borrowed from outside LIS]:

  • Selection of dubious information sources : Elfreda Chatman studied the working poor, women, prisoners and retirees.
  • People prefer informal sources for spur of the moment info needs : Kirsty Williamson, older adults
  • Information sharing within groups (ostracism/exclusion) :  Eric Jones, et. al.
  • User’s perspective : Carol Kuhlthau
  • Beliefs : Donald Case on J.D. Johnson’s model
  • Personal construct theory : George Kelly
  • Preference for attitudinally consistent info amongst those with strongly held beliefs : Laura Brannon, Michael Tagler and Alice Eagly
  • Competency theory : Justin Kruger and David Dunning
  • Overconfidence as indicator of incompetence : Melissa Gross
  • Invitational attitude (as in “new shit”) [vs. indicative attitude] : Kelly’s personal construct theory
  • Positive attitude : Kuhlthau; and, Eva Jonas, Verena Graupmann and Dieter Frey (dissonance reduction)
  • Openness to experience : Jannica Heinström

If you are interested in any of these ideas and how they affect info seeking behavior, or you are a library-type and fan of TBL then you ought to have a look at either this preprint or the published article [Sure wish I could tell you when that is].

A friend of mine wrote on her blog (private, no link) that she was watching TBL as she was inspired by hearing about this article.  I told her that I enjoyed the article even if some times some of this research is fairly questionable. She responded that she was glad that “our profession has people like you who can quickly identify questionable research.” To which this was my response:

As for quickly recognizing … well, that’s the problem. It isn’t quick. It takes a weirdo like me who actually checks (and then reads) the things people cite. Are the methods appropriate to that kind of study? Can it be generalized? Or does it only apply to upper middle class, white kids, in private schools from the Midwest, and so on? (Like in many disciplines), most are too lazy to check that stuff so even if an author says explicitly not to generalize from their study and gives excellent reasons why not other people will. Some of our most beloved truisms in LIS come from this sort of thing. (Same in other disciplines, too.) Much of it is fairly intuitive, “Oh, you say depressed people have shoddy info behaviors? They give up easily and tend not to trust themselves? Blah. Blah.” Anyway, I wish it were easier so perhaps others would do more of it.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the article and am glad others might see some of this research. I just hope they do their jobs if they want to make use of it and read the actual studies themselves.

I should clarify that I am not saying that any of the research cited in this article is shoddy.  Nor am I saying that it is generally so in info behavior research. The biggest problem as I see it is that someone does a study and for assorted reasons—only one method used where more are appropriate, small sample size, etc.—they clearly state in the section(s) on further research, limitations of their study, and/or conclusions to not generalize, and give excellent reasons not to do so, and the next thing you know the article is cited over and over again as showing “such-and-such behavior” in general, or in a completely different group of people than studied. This happens far more than one would hope. And while I can imagine multiple reasons for it occurring none of them are good.

I have one particular article in mind which we read in our introductory course, LIS501, which studied a very limited and demographically narrow group of fifth-graders (sample size 10, computer-savvy, bright, middle class+, well-funded school district, etc.). The author clearly stated this was an exploratory study and could not be generalized. According to ISI Web of Knowledge this article has been cited 71 times. I have read some of those articles and I noticed their citations to the one I am thinking of. And believe me, their use of this as article as supporting evidence for their claims is in no way appropriate. I imagine many of the uses are appropriate but of the several I have seen none of them are.

I see this repeatedly. But the “ability” to see this sort of thing does not come easy. One must pay attention as one reads. One must look at the citations an author uses, especially if used as support for their argument. And one must often go and read those sources cited.  You certainly do not have to read everything everyone cites but by looking at what is being cited, particularly around an area of your personal interest, you will begin to notice the things being repeatedly cited. At that point, you ought to definitely read those.

None of that is easy. Nor is it quick. It may even increase the amount of crap you read. [Yes, crap gets repeatedly cited.] I imagine that it qualifies as one form of slow reading; at least, I would argue that it does.

Anyway, I am hoping that this article does not get eviscerated before seeing print. Eviscerated? C’mon. You are familiar with The Big Lebowski, aren’t you?

2 thoughts on “Some things read lately, or, new shit has come to light

  1. qualitative research (or rather researchers using qualitative or naturalistic methods) strives for *transferability* not generalizability. If it’s well done, you might be able to transfer some findings to certain other populations… anyway, point taken.

  2. Ah, you are entirely correct as usual. Although, in my behalf, I was only using the language used by those I was critiquing. ;)

    Still, transferability is correct. And on that note, I stand by my intended assertion that in the cases I have in mind it is highly doubtful that the findings are transferable; at least, not without a further exploratory study (or better) demonstrating that they do. And that is what we rarely ever see.

Comments are closed.