Is Getting the Answer Quickly the Most Important Thing?

That is a little bit about what Midwest MLA keynote speaker Clifford Stoll talked about today. While we don’t want to drag our heels to find information, the process by which we find it sometimes is lost. We have become a society that often relies on getting information fast but doing that isn’t always cheap and the information isn’t always good. He drew a triangle with words Good, Cheap, Fast at the corners and used food as the example of how we get things. You can get cheap food fast (ala McD’s) but it isn’t really that good. You can get good food for in a reasonable amount of time (ala restaurant) but it isn’t cheap. You can get cheap good food (home cooking) but it isn’t always that fast. Stoll says that most researchers want the right answers fast. But the right answers aren’t always fast, nor are those answers always right, especially in science. For many years people believed the correct scientific answer was that the sun revolved around the Earth. The process at getting the right answer is just as important answer. Sometimes by finding the answer you create more questions and in answering them you develop a completely new right answer to the original question. After all, if Copernicus had asked for the right answer quickly he would have never developed his heliocentric cosmology theory and we would still think the sun revolved around the earth instead of the earth revolving around the sun. Through out the history of medicine how many standardized medical treatments we have thought of as “right” have later been revolutionized and changed by another medical researcher? I am probably going to go out on a limb here but I bet that researcher didn’t ask for the quick right answer.

4 thoughts on “Is Getting the Answer Quickly the Most Important Thing?”

  1. Well said, Michelle.
    I’m often surprised that researchers can spend months to years to test a hypothesis and publish the results (often with admirable patience and perseverance), yet want to get whatever result from a search almost instantaneously.

  2. This is great. I would have liked to have seen the talk.

    Of course, since they want good information faster, that just means the library needs more money. We aren’t free but we are pretty cheap in the big scheme of university funding I think. Someone just has to turn that triangle into a convincing pitch to administration! lol

  3. Quite impressed, Michelle (as always). Is there any chance for a citation or even fulltext of Stoll’s speech? Regards, Oliver

    PS: I hope you managed your autumn move quite smoothly!

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