What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Would Online Open Review Lead to an Academic Popularity Contest?

August 27, 2010, 12:01 PM

Double blind peer-review in science and other fields has been the norm for decades. Now some scholars, as featured at the NY Times this week, are arguing that peer-review needs to move online, eliciting unblinded judgments from a greater number and diversity of experts. But would removing the anonymity of peer-review and widening the scope of participation play into the hands of several common human biases?

Following the New York Times story, I discussed the advantages of open-review and open-access publishing, noting though some of the challenges in moving academic fields and universities in this direction.  In reaction, my colleague at American University Wendy Melillo Farrill offered several important insights, referencing in part the arguments made in Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. I asked Wendy to share her insights with readers in a guest post.--Matthew Nisbet

I would like to add one more piece to Matt's suggestion about peer review in the digital age. I just finished reading Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

At the end of the book, Carr refers to a study by James Evans, a sociologist at the University of Chicago. Evans analyzed 34 million scholarly articles published in academic journals from 1945 through 2005. He looked at the citations in the articles to determine if there were changes in the patterns of citation and research since academic journals shifted from being published in print to being published online.

The assumption was that that making journals available on the Web would "significantly broaden the scope of scholarly research, leading to a much more diverse set of citations," as Carr put it in his book. But that's not what happened in the study Evans did.

Since journals moved online, scholars cited fewer journals than they had previously. Scholars also cited more recent articles with increasing frequency. The broadening of information led to a "narrowing of science and scholarship," Evans found. When Evans discussed his findings in a 2008 article in Science, he explained his counter-intuitive results by suggesting that search engines, which emphasize popular search findings, quickly establish and reinforce a consensus about what information is important and what isn't. The ease of clicking on hyperlinks leads online researchers to "bypass many of the marginally related articles that print researchers" would routinely skim as they browsed through journal articles and books in a library.

One question that should be addressed in this discussion about the movement described in The Times article should be: Would establishing an online, more open peer review system mimic some of the patterns Evans found? Would the most popular academic submissions get the most votes from the reviewers simply because they were popular? Does all of this actually lead to more narrow scholarship or to better scholarship?

--Wendy Melillo Farrill




Would Online Open Review Le...

Newsletter: Share: