Friday, July 2, 2010

PL 34/10: Evidence 2.0

Filed under: Uncategorized — plinius @ 8:33 am

A profession is evidence-based if people base their procedures – their standard or regular ways of working – on guidelines drawn from the systematic and critical use of relevant empirical information.

The term comes from medicine. In medicine, evidence usually refers to the findings from medical research. The idea is that medical procedures and guidelines should be be based – not on single research projects and publications – but on meta-studies.

Meta-studies are systematic surveys of all projects, publications and data that can indicate whether a particular medical approach is useful. You may read more about evidence based medicine at The Cochrane Library website.

The evidence movement

Policy makers like the idea of evidence based practice. It means that professionals must follow established collective rules – rather than their individual preference for this or that approach.

Professionals themselves are much more divided. Some support the idea of shared and “official” knowledge. Others would like to follow their personal expertise or intuition.

The evidence movement applies scientific and economic logic to the professions. In a historical perspective, I see this as part of the rationalization of society. The “disenchantment of the world” (Weber)  started with development of rational law, theology and medicine – and universities – in the High Middle Ages (1100 – ). It continued with early modern science and technology in the Renaissance (Galileo, Agricola), with the great scientific syntheses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Newton, Darwin, Mendeljev), with the industrial revolution of the nineteenth and the scientific management approach of the early twentieth century (Taylor, Ford).

Georgius Agricola wrote De re metallica (1556).

The personal approach is that of the skilled craftsman. The collective approach is that of the skilled industrial worker.

Evidence based professions

The evidence movement has spread from medicine to nursing, teaching, librarianship and many other professions. But there is also lots of resistance. Professions that are close to the (natural) sciences find it easier to accept these practices than professions with a more humanistic basis. The teaching profession is a real battle ground. Librarians are more positive.

I take my examples from librarianship. But at LATINA we see librarianship and teaching as two professions that support learning (and research). In modern schools and universities librarianship is not turned inwards, towards the collections, but outwards – towards

  • students that learn
  • faculty that teaches
  • scholars that conduct research
  • (and increasingly) entrepreneurs that innovate

School and academic libraries engage in formal learning, while public libraries engages in many different forms of informal learning. In this perspective, evidence based librarianship is just one branch of evidence based teaching.

Evidence based librarianship

In librarianship, research is much less developed than in medicine. Our main source of empirical data at the moment is official and administrative statistics.

As professionals we want our data to speak to us. For many years, however, existing library statistics have been poorly utilized. The knowledge potential of the data was not realized.

To release this potential, three conditions must be fulfilled:

  1. statistical agencies must collaborate with the library community in developing and refining concepts, indicators and data collection methods
  2. statistical data must be made freely available in convenient digital formats
  3. the library community must integrate statistical reasoning into their own daily practice

Statistical production is carried out by statistical agencies. One of their tasks ought to be the systematic mapping of library landscapes for comparative purposes.

A new generation of statistical systems is creating much better possibilities of documenting and understanding what is happening in the library sector. The old “comparisons with last year” can be replaced by systematic studies of particular libraries – and by comparing them with other libraries (benchmarking).

The lecture notes continue here


[De Re Metallica] is a complete and systematic treatise on mining and extractive metallurgy, illustrated with many fine and interesting woodcuts which illustrate every conceivable process to extract ores from the ground and metal from the ore, and more besides.

Thus Agricola describes and illustrates how ore veins occur in and on the ground, making the work an early contribution to the developing science of geology. He describes prospecting for ore veins and surveying in great detail, as well as washing the ores to collect the heavier valuable minerals such as gold and tin.



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