Da Bears

August 12, 2011

That was some good stuff in your previous post.  Yeah, it is amazing how quickly scientific papers are generated in the worldwide system.  I believe this causes a certain sense of information overload that many people feel.  Moreover, not only are there an increasing number of papers, but there has also been an emergence of putatively new fields of study, like synthetic biology, connectomics, and service science.  Of course it remains to be seen whether these fields remain viable or whether they collapse.

I was reading this paper “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips” by Sparrow, Liu, and Wegner that recently appeared in Science.  As the authors say, the internet has caused a huge technological shift in how information can be used:

In a development that would have seemed extraordinary just over a decade ago, many of us have constant access to information. If we need to find out the score of a ball game, learn how to perform a complicated statistical test, or simply remember the name of the actress in the classic movie we are viewing, we need only turn to our laptops, tablets, or smartphones and we can find the answers immediately. It has become so commonplace to look up the answer to any question the moment it occurs that it can feel like going through withdrawal when we can’t find out something immediately.

Moreover, they go on to describe experiments that demonstrate how technology has changed the nature of human cognition itself.  They essentially demonstrate that “our internal encoding is increased for where the information is to be found rather than for the information itself.”  They discuss their results as follows:

These results suggest that processes of human memory are adapting to the advent of new computing and communication technology. Just as we learn through transactive memory who knows what in our families and offices, we are learning what the computer “knows” and when we should attend to where we have stored information in our computer-based memories. We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into interconnected systems that remember less by knowing information than by knowing where the information can be found. This gives us the advantage of access to a vast range of information, although the disadvantages of being constantly “wired” are still being debated.

Maybe the Google Scholar generation is fine with the growing volume of information due to these cognitive changes.  From introspection, I certainly feel that I don’t know all that much in the scientific literature, but rather I either know where to find it or feel confident that I could search for it if I needed to.  Recently I’ve slowly been learning a more empirical approach to life, so perhaps I should offer more evidence than simply introspection.

On the plane ride back from St. Petersburg, I was telling someone that I probably have a much more “referency” writing style than others.  (Although one might cynically feel that references are a way to show off erudition, in my approach to writing I include references because I know things “by reference” and also to give proper attribution.)  To test this hypothesis using scientometrics, I went through all 98 doctoral theses in EECS at MIT from the year 2010.  Although I am definitely in the top three, with 371 references, I do not hold the top spot.  That distinction is held by Umit Demirbas with his thesis on Low-cost, highly efficient, and tunable ultrafast laser technology based on directly diode-pumped Cr:Colquiriites, which has 416 references.  Your thesis comes in at #5 with 230 references, so it seems that you too have something of a referency writing style.  As a point of comparison on the other side, Mike Rinehart’s thesis on The value of information in shortest path optimization has 19 references.

To make an actual generational argument though, perhaps I should get the numbers from another year, like 2004.  Anyone up for crowdsourcing the data collection?  Also what would be an appropriate statistical test for me to look up to make such an argument?

Shifting gears to the start of the football season, in a certain sense I am more intrigued by UConn than by Syracuse itself.  Of course this is primarily due to Paul Pasqualoni and George DeLeone, a chief architect of the freeze option offense.  People often used to say that the Syracuse football playbook was too big and confusing; certainly larger than at other schools.  Coming back to the question of too much or too little, I wonder if there is a way to make an argument about the pluses and minuses of strategic complexity in a competition like football with bounded agents; perhaps following the lines of Daskalakis?

Anyway, let me leave it there and not mention anything about cognitive history or the difficulty of ranking multivariates, or my new found fear of non-human hominids.


One comment

  1. […] Ashvins The Ultimate Machinists « Da Bears Reasonable Doubt August 26, […]

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