Epistasis Blog

From the Computational Genetics Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania (www.epistasis.org)

Monday, July 05, 2010

Is too much data shattering our focus and rewriting our brains?

Wired magazine has a review and essay about a new book called 'The Shallows' by Nicholas Carr. In this book Carr, argues that the internet is rewiring our brains to be good at 'cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking and superficial learning'. The effect of this this is that very little of what we see on the internet goes in to longterm memory because there isn't time for the brain to make the important connections and establish context. Thus, we don't actually 'learn' very much from the internet. I think the same thing is happening in genetics and epidemiology with the onslaught of data from high-throughput technology. The field is caught up in a perpetual frenzy to adapt to the latest technology being thrown our way. The result is that we spend much of our time in a panic about data cleaning, data management and high-throughput data analysis. We are not spending our valuable time thinking deeply about the questions and the intepretation of research results. Is it possible that the data deluge is resulting in 'cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking and superficial learning' just as with the internet? What is happening to the students we are training? Are we really training them how to think or are they just learning how to do?

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