[This is another from my catalogue of strained metaphors, and my grasp of religious history is rather tenuous, so I'm sure people who are better acquainted with the subtleties of Hussite history can point out lots of flaws with it. But take the surface points as of interest.]
I've been giving a talk recently called "Digital Scholarship: 10 Lessons in 10 Videos". I'll blog these in detail later, but one of my lessons is that we should rethink research. By this I mean we have a certain attitude towards how research is conducted, which was shaped prior to the arrival of digital, networked and open technologies. Some of that attitude still works, but there are also a host of possibilities that remaining wedded solely to that view prohibits.
An aspect of this that interests me is the Do It Yourself (or Do It Ourselves as Tim O'Reilly has it), do it now approach. In my talk I give three examples from my own experience:
- Start your own journal – for example my MetaEdtech Journal
- Build an app – eg our Facebook apps
- Interrogate data – such as Tony's playing around with tools and social data
But you can think of many other examples: Jim Groom's DS106 mega experiment or the MOOC approach from George Siemens and co can be seen as research and experimentation in the open.
What I find fascinating about these is that they didn't need permission. As Larry Lessig points out in his review of The Social Network, it is this removal of the permission filter that is really significant:
"what’s important here is that Zuckerberg’s genius could be embraced by half-a-billion people within six years of its first being launched, without (and here is the critical bit) asking permission of anyone. The real story is not the invention. It is the platform that makes the invention sing."
Back to research then, and our ingrained attitude goes something like this:
- Come up with an idea
- Write a proposal
- Get funding
- Do research
Obtaining the funding is often an absolutely necessary step – you can't build a Large Hadron Collider in your back yard after all. But it also performs another function – it validates research as something worthwhile. So ingrained is this approach, that if you don't get funding, it doesn't count as research. We don't question it anymore.
But with the arrival of new easy to use tools, open data, a network of peers and cheap or free storage, you can do a lot of research now without funding. The video I show for this lesson is this one from Derek Sivers. He's talking about starting a business, but a lot of it could apply to research also:
So what's all this got to do with a 14th Century Czech Priest? Well, Jan Hus argued that we didn't need priests, that everyone formed part of the church and the Papal hierarchy should be undermined. I'm not making any comment on his religious argument here (he says, trying to avoid offending anyone). There is an analogy with this approach to research though. For the Catholic churches read research councils. We are all the research councils, we don't need permission to conduct our practice and we don't need their approved channels to reach the audience.
My argument is not to overthrow research councils, we still need them, but to propose that often there are low to zero cost alternatives available which might get at some of your research question. We should consider these at least without always defaulting to the funding = research model.
Mind you, poor Jan didn't have a happy ending, so maybe I should stay quiet.