9.622 keeping afloat

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Wed, 13 Mar 1996 19:24:04 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 622.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu> (37)
Subject: Simple solutions?

An interesting question posed by Barbara Diederichs for her group H-CLC:

>Date: Wed, 13 Mar 1996 11:32:25 -0500
>From: "H-CLC (BD)" <bdiederi@artsci.wustl.edu>
>The other day I heard a commentary on NPR about the GOP presidential
>candidates. The commentator quoted an interview with Forbes about a year
>ago where he explained the appeal of a flat tax saying that the more
>access we have to information and the more we are flooded with
>information, the more we are drawn to simple solutions.
>Intuitively, I would say that simple solutions are always preferable --
>in mathematics and physics they call them 'elegant'. But on the other
>hand, if we are not willing to even consider something because it is too
>complicated to understand immediately, chances are that we are going to
>miss out on important contributions.
>Given that most of us advocate the new technologies for more access to
>more information, maybe we could discuss some of the consequences that
>this increase of access will have (or already has had) on our way of
>thinking, doing research etc.
>Any experiences or thoughts to share?
>Barbara Diederichs.

Many possible answers. I have certainly found myself, after a search of the
MLA bibliography on CD-ROM, keeping or rejecting items based on titles only.
In the particular case I am thinking of, I had ca. 3000 hits. What else was
I to do? Conventional wisdom is that with that many hits clearly one must
redesign one's query. I could not be more specific, however, because I was
on a fishing expedition with no idea what the major topics would be -- and
certainly the LC classifications didn't help much. So I looked through all
the titles, refining the selection down to about 100 items for further

I do not see how better software would have helped me. A better convention
for writing informative titles would!

One effect that many have observed is the end of the presumption that a
Ph.D. candidate has read everything in his or her area, unless that area is
exceedingly small. Can anyone afford to specialize that much, given the need
to adapt for whatever form employment might take?