Over the past several years, I’ve heard a number of variations on the theme that the younger generation doesn’t need to learn facts, that they just need to learn methods. I have to disagree – vehemently!

The younger generations not only need to learn, if anything, MORE facts, and those facts in their proper context, more than any other previous generation. Those who disagree often ask why this is necessary when computers and cloud databases have far more “storage” than the obviously limited human brain.

In fact, the very size of computer databases are what makes the need for humans to learn facts all the greater. That’s because of a simple point that tends all too often to get overlooked… or disregarded. To ask an intelligent question and to get an answer that is meaningful and useful, you have to know enough facts to frame the question. You also have to have an idea of what terms mean and the conditions under which they’re applicable.

While the computer is a great help for “simple” research, the computerization of research sources has often made finding more detailed information more difficult, particularly since algorithms often prioritize search results by popularity, which can make finding more out-of-the-way queries difficult, if not impossible, if the searcher doesn’t know the precise terms and key words necessary.

Already, there are too many young people who don’t know enough arithmetic to determine whether the numbers generated or shown by a point-of-sale terminal or a computer screen are even in the right ballpark. And from what I’ve seen, grammar checkers actually are inaccurate and create grammatical errors more often than they correct errors.

Then there’s also the problem of trying to use computers when they shouldn’t be used. Trying to get directions from Siri while actively driving qualifies as distracted driving. It’s fine if a passenger is arguing with Siri, but anything but that if the driver is.

Then there’s the problem that surfaced in the last election. When people don’t have a long-established in-depth personal store of knowledge and facts, they’re at the mercy of the latest “information” that pops up on the internet and of whatever appeals to their existing prejudices and preconceptions. And that doesn’t serve them — or the rest of us — well at all.

5 thoughts on “Research”

  1. Lourain says:

    Spell-check…homomyms Ex.: “ reign in terrorism…” No thought involved. (Spell-check tried to put in”hominids” instead of “homonyms”)

  2. Lourain says:

    Terrible typing too.

  3. Alan Naylor says:

    I don’t know that I could entirely agree with the notion that today’s generation doesn’t need to learn fewer facts and better methods. A great deal of what previous generations have learned is rote memorization.

    The several hundred mathematical formulas, for example, still floating about my brain which are rarely if ever used would be just as easily looked up in a table or book. The same can be said for a great many other subjects.

    It should be staggeringly obvious that if you do not do proper research and frame your questions appropriately than you will only get garbage back from a search of any data base. So better methods go hand in hand with having enough information to perform the search.

    We certainly need to maintain a level of knowledge and skills to go hand in hand with the understanding of methods. However I do not understand why it helps to force memorization of myriad amounts of facts which are importantly only within their field into the minds of students. Why should a music major in college be forced to memorize page after page of physics equations? When will the musician ever perform vector addition? The formulas for these things are perfect examples of what I believe could be set aside in a database for use as needed, rather than memorized.

    Like wise a math major has no need to memorize the dates of the Civil War and myriad commanders within that war’s service periods. Again this is information which is readily researched without needing complicated algorithms or special knowledge. If you want to know about General Lee’s death and the time of his death, that would be the sort of thing I would feel is best kept in a database.

    A wide level of general knowledge helps to create a well rounded student and encourages them to develop a much more capable mind. At some point that general knowledge passes from being useful and into simply more data haze filling the mind. Even within their own specialized fields scientists do not memorize every little bit that comes their way but utilize notes, books, other people’s research and build their own theories. Often times the published theories do not bring up the mundane minutiae which are the foundations of the higher level research, instead the papers rely on either the ready availability of the information or that the reader already has a grasp of the topic.

    1. Daze says:

      Not sure I agree: being a math major myself, I know that I can easily look up all the functions I would ever need – and indeed you can just feed your data to something like SPSS and get all of those functions applied at the same time without you knowing any of them. What I wouldn’t be able to do without serious revision is have any comprehension at all about what the answers meant on 99% of them.

      … and certainly wouldn’t have the experience to apply useful rules like (the most useful): ” if the index of fit is really high, it’s almost certainly not real data”.

      The equivalent will also be true in most fields. If all you have is simple heuristics and a good grasp of how to search, you will always be biased to believing simplistic claims about the world – like, to take an example not at all at random, “all we need to do is tell these guys that we’re bigger and nastier than they are and they’ll fall into line”. And then not have to be surprised when the little guy sees himself as David and says “there, that proves I need a bigger slingshot to fend you off!”

      1. Tim says:

        On that last point, I have always wondered why people thonk of Goliath as the big superior aggressor and David as the poor little shepherd boy.

        Slings are lethal and all he had to do was stand off until he struck luckly. Goliath had no chance!

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