well, that would be awesome, wouldn’t it?

“Is there a database that shows if a method or perspective has been discredited?”

I got this question last week in my credit class.  This is a class where I struggle to balance the 1-credit/1-hour-per-week limitations of the course with what it means to teach about research in a meaningful way.  I am a lot closer to liking that balance now than I used to be, but it’s an ongoing struggle between the nuance and intricacies of scholarship and research that I think are really important and the how-to’s the students also need practice with.

I got this question, as I say, last week, after talking about peer review and what it really is, and how it ties into what we’ve been talking about about disciplines and knowledge communities and MLA International Bibliography.

So yay, because that’s a pretty good question that shows at least someone was buying what I was selling in that class.  But a disheartening one too.  Because this is a really important issue in this student’s two disciplines – there’s no Standard Model structuring the discourse in the areas he’s exploring – there is active and vigorous disagreement about where the fields should be going and how they should get there.  It would be awesome if there was a way to help him navigate those papers heavily cited but since discredited and those heavily cited but now just a little unfashionable and those heavily cited but controversial and those heavily cited and still shaping the discourse.

We talked a little bit about fraud, and identifying papers that have been truly pulled back out of the discourse, but that’s not the same thing. And we talked about other ways to find that context, most of which pull you out of the discovery phase into doing something else.  I was feeling pretty discouraged because not only does this database not exist, I couldn’t think of way for it to exist.  Like, ever.  In my personal experience, this is what mentors are for, and seminar experiences where you get smacked down for using something you shouldn’t …

… but then I raised the question in a faculty reception and people started thinking about citation chaining and visualizations and graphing networks and real-people connections and is there a way we *could* get at this, woven into the discovery phase?  And I started to feel less hopeless and yeah, I decided to throw that out there – is there?

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