Doc Searls was talking the other day about scholarly works being available online, and the ways this could be helpful.
From the standpoint of writers, this could be a real blessing in terms of being able to access the correct information – or at least information that is more correct than is generally available. Those of us who write articles intending to inform on non-fiction topics are often confronted with advocacy research in the guise of serious study, and that is a big problem if you’re interested in accuracy.
If you’re not familiar with advocacy research, what it is usually consists of a paid study for marketing or other purposes, with an outcome favorable to whatever idea those footing the bill expect to get across to the public. We’re all familiar with those kinds of statements in advertising like, “4 out of 5 dentists recommend Toothpaste A” or “studies show Handsoap XYZ kills ten times more bacteria!” Most people recognize those “studies” for what they are, and may even have come to expect them in marketing situations.
Unfortunately people like numbers and statistics, even if they don’t make any sense, or are scientifically unsupportable. Emphasis on this kind of information is so often used these days by activists for all kinds of causes, that I’ve noticed a good bit of advocacy research creeping into publications from government agencies and non-profits, where its use is nothing short of misleading and dishonest.
With the genuine article available online for anybody to see, this could go a long way in helping the public get a better, more reliable understanding of issues they need to deal with. This could mean the end of advocacy research, and that would be a great benefit for everybody – everybody, that is, except those phony institutes and fake thinktanks.