Since its launch as an Internet search engine in 1998, Google has continually expanded the online services that it offers. Maps, search engines for researchers, cloud storage, and even its own internet service (Google Fiber) are among the many ways this company has diversified, while maintaining the philosophy that “You can make money without doing evil“.
But can Google help increase the amount of knowledge in the world? Can it make collaborative research easy, accessible, and reliable? One research tool it offers is Google Scholar, which allows you to search peer-reviewed publications using their algorithms to weed out irrelevant results. But their greatest contribution to the furthering of scientific knowledge is something even simpler: Google Drive.
If you’ve never used it, Drive is an online cloud storage platform that is included for free with any Gmail account. (And Gmail is also free!) In itself, the platform is great for sharing files – you can share something you create or upload with the public, specific people, or through a link.
This, of course, opens up the question of piracy – but Google will shut down accounts that are publicly sharing copyrighted files. You can share files with a few friends with no repercussions (similar to the First Sale doctrine that allows libraries to run), but blatantly breaking IP regulations on a broad scale isn’t allowed.
Using Apps to Create
But file sharing isn’t research! So how does this help people create new knowledge? Well, now we get into the apps that Drive offers: specifically Docs and Sheets. These are online versions of Microsoft Word and Excel, respectively, and they fall under the same sharing guidelines as any file in the cloud. Collaborators can work on the same document, or draw data from the same spreadsheet, without the hassle of e-mailing work back and forth. Instead, you simply log into the drive from wherever you are and start working. Drive saves everything as you go, and keeps records of revisions, so you can also see who did what to each document.
This not only increases the reliability of your information (since each writer’s name is attached to their work, they have reasons to ensure the accuracy), but also makes it much faster to collaborate. In fact, people can work on the same document simultaneously! So the epistemic speed, or “how quickly it leads to true answers” (Thagard, 1997), is quite high, because knowledge can be created, edited and fact-checked as fast as people can type. And because Drive is accessible to anyone with internet access – whether it’s at home, at the library, or through a mobile device – the amount of potential researchers is vastly increased. The fecundity, “ability to lead to large numbers of true beliefs for many practitioners” (Thagard, 1997) is also high, because the knowledge – once created – can be shared with anyone online. However, the power of Drive is hard to measure. While Google’s search algorithms make it easy “to help people find true answers to the questions that interest them” (Thagard, 1997), articles that exist on Drive must be accessible to the public for this to be useful.
And for the social sciences, this is especially amazing. No longer are you stuck with doing studies in your area, wondering if your results are truly generalizable to the larger population. Now you can set up a study, find collaborators in other areas, combine your data, and do research that’s not only broadly applicable but easily shared! And it opens up access to anyone with an internet connection – not just people who work or study in the academic fields. With the growing recognition that diversity in science is needed, Drive could be a major positive force for researchers all over the world.
Of course, you’ll have to make sure it doesn’t end like this…
Full text of my Epistemology of Google Drive is here!
Google Company. (2016). Ten things we know to be true. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/intl/en/about/company/philosophy/
Google Company. (2014). Our history in depth. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/about/company/history/
My Paper. (2012, May). Google drive not a pirates’ paradise. Retrieved from http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest+News/Science+and+Tech/Story/A1Story20120508-344475.html
Thagard, P. (1997). Internet epistemology: Contributions of new information technologies to scientific research. Retrieved from http://cogsci.uwaterloo.ca/Articles/Pages/Epistemology.html
Munroe, R. (2006, December 4). Working for Google. Retrieved from https://xkcd.com/192/
Munroe, R. (2015, October 23). Human subjects. Retrieved from https://xkcd.com/1594/
NASA Goddard Space Flight. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/16326710782/in/photolist-qSJEiu-8Nxr1C-pN7nmE-91Cr3M-8cVDAN-t1MDG-ngJ93-4cNSAN-91FDPj-pZX6Fr-qEhnFH-9Ptb4x-bSFpoV-csBTpY-nXu85b-hgj3V8-mfbHU2-5Vrcxi-eaxhbm-wEK7jQ-ro44H3-rjQRm5-pBwyua-fWFARy-ciiroq-qwbHXe-q2fTri-7jTzqj-iemegw-dKCCoJ-dSspXi-pab3yz-cDUitf-bzyQpt-6LY11P-v91QyV-2BsfZ8-pWS7PE-pa3e7R-d5UJiq-fr6PG-qX1KRc-7jTzpQ-qWJoez-5wnVi3-sBf1JR-n47br-3ficfR-cmbFd7-91CvbK