By Cindy Foster

The Third Cognitive Revolution, So Much to Read, So Little Time

It is not your imagination. Today, for the first time in history, it is impossible to keep up with all the available information being released into the world. What are we going to do with all the information that bombards us on a daily basis? And, how can we ensure people benefit from it in the medical environment?

An international group of researchers tackles that question in "The Third Cognitive Revolution," a paper recently published in EMBO Reports − a peer-reviewed journal - highlighting research in molecular biology, as well as commentaries on the social impact of advances in the life sciences.

Digitalization, the World Wide Web, and global research efforts have brought about the Third Cognitive Revolution. This transformation follows the invention of agriculture, the alphabet and cities in the First Revolution, and the integration of modern paper with the printing press during the Second Revolution, according to one of the paper's authors, Dr. Ariel L. Rivas in the University of New Mexico's Center for Global Health.

The group's paper focuses on two problems created by this flood of information: the risk of delaying the adoption of available knowledge and the questionable validity of much of the published literature.

"How to react and adapt to this onslaught of knowledge will be the major challenge going into the future," Rivas says. "This phenomenon has never before been experienced by any human generation. No government, university, business, legal system or ideology seems prepared to address it."

At the individual level, the revolution is creating a new type of illiteracy, one where a researcher is always working with outdated information. That is so because the time available to read remains constant, but the volume of the literature to be read keeps growing.

For instance, if the average scientist, in 1955, needed to read two hours a week in order to stay current in his or her field, today, a similar scientist would need to be reading 300 hours a week. Yet, a week is only 168 hours long.

One example of delayed adoption of available knowledge and/or published knowledge of dubious validity is the fact that more than 20,000 papers have been published on sepsis. In spite of such a colossal number of studies, none have translated into new treatments.

"This problem affects everything, everybody and everywhere," Rivas says. "It involves the credibility of diplomas, universities, professions, publications and jobs."

The revolution is unleashing a myriad of additional questions. What will the medical profession look like in five years? How can we funnel research dollars most effectively? How do we compare medical schools?

In order to operate effectively in this new information environment, new ways of communicating must be found, say the authors, as they call for exploring new methods to integrate and translate scientific findings into formats that work better and faster with less.

"The need now is for inter- and trans-disciplinary communication mechanisms that can help disseminate information to the people who need it most," the authors suggest. "We need to start a serious dialogue.".


Categories: Health, Research, School of Medicine, Top Stories