Researcher goes on accidental whirlwind tour of scientific literature

Daniel Senter, Associate Professor of Psychological Anthropology at Stony Brook University, recently went on an unintended whirlwind tour of the academic literature. The sequence of papers covered 24 articles in 17 disciplines and took over 9 hours to complete.

‘I’m not entirely sure what happened actually…..’, Senter reports. “I was looking for a paper on ceremonial clothing traditions in Sulawesi. First, I found an excellent review paper that contained a reference to a paper on historic volcanic activity in Indonesia, and its influence on in cultural practices. So I read that paper, which in turn cited a paper on the dynamics of energy release during volcanic eruptions. Fascinating material. That led me to a Wikipedia entry on mass-energy equivalence, and its relation to quantum mechanics, leading to another, fascinating paper discussing the sociological dynamics of early 20th century physics and the role of the Wiener Kreis. Did you know that Ernst Mach, a prominent member of the Wiener Kreis, wrote on the sense of balance, and developed a novel visual illusion? I just couldn’t stop reading.”

After detours into ornithology, statistics, computational biology and Chinese poetry, Senter discovered that Mach’s work had inspired B.F. Skinner. Senter: “And Skinner in turn wrote the utopian novel Walden Two. It turned out that Skinner’s speculations on community governance and the influence of the environment on sociocultural behaviors were exactly what I needed for my paper on ceremonial clothing. Finally.”

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4 comments

  1. Petrossa

    Google scholar has that effect on me. Unfortunately i never arrive at my goal because somewhere along the line i forget what i was looking for. Luckily there is always my wife to pry me loose from my screen.

  2. Pingback: Víkendové surfovanie « life in progress

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