Research

We see research simply as the process of learning and the creation of knowledge. Learning is a fundamental need of humanity. The sharing of knowledge is the essence of education. We think that open, collaborative, and living research projects will form the foundation of education in the future.

Let the discoveries begin.

What is Research?

Research is a journey of discovery. It is a process—the ultimate goal of which is to understand ourselves and the world around us. By nature, we are inquisitive. We want to know how things work. We have questions that beg for answers. Whenever we look for answers we are doing research, though we may not think of it as such. In a sense, each of us who has sought answers to life’s difficult questions is a researcher!

Yet ’never before has science [and research] become so alienated from the common man, and he, in turn, so suspicious of science,’ said Erwin Chargaff, the biochemist. It doesn’t have to be this way. Research must be brought back down to its roots, the vocation or avocation of the inspired and impassioned.

It is the sense of mystery that, in my opinion, drives the true scientist; the same force, blindly seeing, deafly hearing, unconsciously remembering, that drives the larva into the butterfly. If he has not experienced, at least a few times in his life, this cold shudder down his spine, this confrontation with an immense, invisible face whose breath moves him to tears, he is not a scientist.

— Erwin Chargaff, Heraclitean Fire: Sketches from a Life Before Nature

The Research Process

Research is a process—it’s not the papers or other outputs that are published at the end of that process. We see the research process as being made of little building blocks that are put together in various ways as research progresses. One of our goals is to make the research process—the journey of discovery—shareable. It’s our passion.

We’ve put together some of our thoughts about the research process. Whether you’re a self-proclaimed research nerd or just getting started, come and acquaint yourself with what we are trying to accomplish.

Check out Research 101

The Future of Research: A Manifesto

In 1945, the director of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development wrote:

Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose.

— Vannevar Bush, in As We May Think, from the Atlantic Magazine

This situation has not changed a whole lot since then. Yes, we have computers and digital documents now, but we are still stuck in the same publishing paradigm. It can still take one or two years to get a research paper published! And then, we only publish our research conclusions. While conclusions are important, research is more than conclusions. Conclusions are only a small part of the story. Most of our research process is not being published and ends up lost.

Why is our sharing process still so limited? Why do we limit scholarly publication to catatonic research papers, when sharing the entire journey of discovery would be more beneficial for everyone? Research is a rich experience that should be shareable.

Traditionally, universities and other large research organizations have contributed the vast majority of research to the world. While these organizations may continue to play a large role, we believe that practitioners and amateurs will help lead the way in the research of the future. In addition, modern research and e-research systems will lower the entry barrier for quality research contributions, making it possible for more people to contribute to high-quality research projects.

While the research process across disciplines may seem very similar on the surface, differences in research communities, knowledge representations, and vocabularies arise under closer scrutiny. To be most effective, research software needs to be designed specifically for the field it is trying to support. However, we think that clarity, context, and collaboration are three elements that should be present in any modern research system.

Clarity

Like tesserae in a mosaic, the building blocks of research should be visible and connected so others can understand how you put the pieces together.

Clarity of tesserae

Research should be clear and transparent. Every piece of information that contributed to the conclusion should be accessible. Research must clearly show not only what data was used, but how the data was used to answer the questions along the way. Otherwise, subsequent researchers will not know how the pieces were put together.

Clarity is important not only so that others can understand and verify your research conclusions, but because you don’t want to leave out your journey of discovery. This is the essence of research. Why are we leaving out the good stuff?

Context

Individual tesserae have no meaning until they are put into context. Only as you look at the bigger picture do you see the true meaning of each piece.

Context is the bigger picture

Our world grows increasingly compartmentalized. We pursue our specialization as if with blinders, trying to push forward progress in our chosen field. Modern researchers and research systems need to take a more holistic approach. Systems thinkers need to show how research in one field relates to research in another. We need bridge builders that can see the big picture and make connections between bodies of knowledge, subjects, and individual lives.

Research is only correctly understood in its proper context. When that fuller context is considered, new avenues for research are opened and barriers are breached. Holes in the research, if any, are also revealed.

All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.

— Albert Einstein, from Moral Decay

Collaboration

Clarity and context are prerequisites to true research collaboration.

Collaboration gets us there faster

Modern research and research systems are collaborative. The rewards of research collaboration outweigh any of the benefits of proprietary reward systems. Life is too short to be stuck in traditional research silos.

There is still so much to learn about ourselves and our world. Because good research naturally proliferates, there is no danger of running out of work to do. However, we will move faster and build better research as we work together.

Additional Resources