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Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Since time began, or at least farming, people have always had a need to separate the wheat from the chaff. But people also have a need to add chaff to the wheat. It could be in that pound of grain you bought or the money you bought that grain with. It is in other words the fake stuff that's passed along and sold as real that makes chaff not useless but the stuff of big business.

Knowledge of course can be counterfeited along with physical goods. In its most obvious form it can be in the product warranties of the flim flam artist or snake oil salesman, or more innocently it can just be a byproduct, like chaff, of the way that we harvest knowledge. The problem is, as we become better at harvesting stuff from wheat to facts, passing off adulterated stuff becomes less an unintended and more an intended consequence. So we take our business elsewhere to those who can deliver just the good stuff, pure and simple.

You can blame the Internet for this, as it has wised us up so we can find the right definition of a word without wading through a thousand synonyms. The ability to find the right fact without wading through a thousand digressions is bad news for encyclopedia companies, and of late the entertainment media. But it's good news for those who want to get directly to the point, providing of course that they have the means to find it.

The next phase of this movement, long overdue, is in academic research. Squirreled away in journals whose contents are inaccessible, unreadable, and overpriced, the publish and perish mentality among academics has encouraged printing stuff that may make an academic but hardly a popular grade. But of course both are hardly incompatible criteria, as anyone who has read the lucid writings of Darwin or Einstein may attest. If you the reader paid for knowledge in detail rather than wholesale, editors would be immediately conscious of a whole new set of criteria, namely readability, usability, and value. It might even make academic knowledge interesting again.

(and for me, I am looking forward to completing my collection of B. F. Skinner's, Robert Bolles, Kent Berridge, and Jaak Panksepp's greatest hits, all for 50 cents an article from the first cousin of i-tunes, dare I coin the phrase, i-tomes?)

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