30 June 2009

Are we losing our ability to think critically?

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Thinking critically
Samuel Greengard writes in the latest issue of Communications of the ACM on how some experts believe that computer technology might be affecting people’s ability to think deeply.

“We’re exposed to [greater amounts of] poor yet charismatic thinking, the fads of intellectual fashion, opinion, and mere assertion,” says Adrian West [, research director at the Edward de Bono Foundation U.K., and a former computer science lecturer at the University of Manchester]. “The wealth of communications and information can easily overwhelm our reasoning abilities.” What’s more, it’s ironic that ever-growing piles of data and information do not equate to greater knowledge and better decision-making. What’s remarkable, West says, is just “how little this has affected the quality of our thinking.”

Read full story (subscription required)

Note that the magazine’s editorial is about open access to the magazine’s online contents, and even reading that editorial requires a subscription. Sic. Here a short excerpt.

“The problem with the “information wants to be free” principle is that “free,” per se, is not a sound business model. The current implosion of the U.S. newspaper industry certainly testifies to that claim. Having been personally involved with an open-access publication for about five years now, I have come to realize that publishing has real costs. Any publishing business model must account for these costs. Even “free” must be monetized! […]

As for ACM’s stand on the open-access issue, I’d describe it as “clopen,” somewhere between open and closed. (In topology, a clopen set is one that is both open and closed.) ACM does charge a price for its publications, but this price is very reasonable. (If you do not believe me, ask your librarian.) ACM’s modest publication revenues first go to cover ACM’s publication costs that go beyond print costs to include the cost of online distribution and preservation, and then to support the rest of ACM activities.”

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