Given my current lack of a university library, and my continued rapaciousness for research I’ve had to sample internet offerings. There’s a reason academics are skeptical of the internet’s research reliability. Just about anything you want to verify brings you up against a paywall where you can sometime buy an article you could read for free if you were a professor, for about $15 or $20. The privileging of academic information. (Hey folks, I give it away here!) In any case, I often run into websites on the topic on researching that give “facts” with a breezy assurance that isn’t followed up with footnotes, making me wonder where they got their information. Who was the publisher? Who says they know what they’re talking about? No wonder alternative facts rule the day.
One of the things I learned in the course of my doctoral work is that those three insignificant letters, if applied correctly, indicate that you know how to do research. Earning a doctorate is often considered (and sometimes is) a matter of becoming a specialist. Those willing to peel back the top layer realize that underneath what’s going on is a transformation of your way of thinking. You can find facts, but you can also weigh them in the balances. You take no one’s word for it. Unless, of course, they’re published by a prestige press. And even then, if the lesson really sunk in, you’ll have your doubts. The internet is a frustrating place to try to find reliable information. Oh, it’s great for looking up phone numbers, and even for getting directions. Just don’t trust it with history.
Currently at work on my fifth book, I’m finding research somewhat of a hurdle. I’ve reached out to local universities and they seem only to want to let you in if you’re an adjunct (which is considered a conflict of interest in my current post). You’re therefore locked out of knowledge. I recently learned that JSTOR may be offering a fixed number of free articles to independent scholars. If so, that is a great and farsighted boon. You see, the problem is you need to look at the footnotes to know which articles are actually based on solid research. There’s a move afoot that makes academic presses shudder. The move for free information. It’s the business of academic presses to sell it, of course—that’s where the money comes from. So I sit here facing another paywall and I wonder is wisdom can ever truly be free.