Editor's Musings: Information overload
Humans have been storing information for millennia. We started with cave-drawings and papyrus, moved onto books, and now we have the behemoth that is the internet. We have to store information, because we’re a forgetful lot. Some more than others, but it’s just a thing that happens. We learn about Bernoulli’s principle and the equation for the coefficient of friction during undergrad, but if we don’t use it we lose it. In a teamwork environment, we even store information with other people, as transactive memory. This is when a group collectively encodes and stores information. The group then knows who knows about this information and can ask them when it’s needed. I don’t mean to be too figurative, but the internet has evolved to fulfil the role of the group know-it-all. We can access almost any information we require with a few clicks or swishes on the touch screen. I can access my journal article database via Mendeley on any smartphone, tablet, or computer that can connect to the internet. We’re always connected and always able to tap into the well of knowledge. This has led to an interesting phenomenon called digital amnesia or “the Google effect”.
Digital amnesia occurs when we subconsciously choose to forget information that we believe will be easily accessible from an external source at a later stage. We’re no longer encoding “what” we know, but “where” to find it. There is so much information in the world and it is ever increasing, with a scientific paper reportedly being born every 10seconds. The long and short of it is that there is unfathomable knowledge out there; we can’t possibly know it all. We have adapted to storing the “where” rather than the “what”, and we now depend on the internet for retrieving our knowledge. A downside to this is that true and useful information can get lost in the noise, while less true information easily pervades the virtual realm. This talk about transactive memory and “the Google effect” was primarily food for thought, but how can it be related to sport science?
Those sport scientists who find themselves in academia should be careful not to get bogged down by the information overload. I’ve been my own worst enemy in this regard. I call it “going down the rabbit hole”. I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t been able to adequately manage my trips down the rabbit hole. I’m an addict to knowledge, so I won’t preach to you on the matter. Just check yourself before you wreck yourself.
On the field and in the gym sport scientists are sometimes faced with conventional wisdom and common knowledge that has been perpetuated by our global transactive memory source. Training adorned in black bags to help shed weight. Putting in those long slow runs for pre-season. I could go on, but you’ve probably heard this and more. Then, because we don’t always retain new information, when we turn to the internet for a refresher, we might end up reinforcing the possibly out-dated information.
“It is that which we do know which is a great hindrance to our learning that which we do not know.” – Claude Bernard, French physiologist (1813-1878)
An example in this vein is the conventional wisdom that’s been on my mind lately about treating and managing muscle injuries. I’m referring to Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE). While on a trip down the rabbit hole, I came across a review by Delos et al. (2013) which piqued my interest. Within it’s stated that RICE is yet to be verified by a randomised control trial study. The parts of RICE are addressed individually.
Rest – Unclear, as there is evidence in favour of immobilisation and mobilisation.
Ice – Limited evidence suggests improvements in pain and muscle function after cryotherapy on muscle strains.
Compression – Reduces the blood flow to compressed area4, but still regarded as probably ineffective[3,4]
Elevation – The rationale of elevating the affected area is to reduce hydrostatic pressure and local oedema, however, this is untested.
Ultimately, while it is common knowledge, currently RICE seems to lack supporting evidence3. This is something that can easily get muddled or missed in the noise. To wrap-up, a sport scientist will benefit from a healthy mix of the “what” and “where” of information, and should be discerning but willing when processing both new and old information.
The problem of information overload is real, but in SPORT SCIENCE COLLECTIVE we like to think we’re part of the solution by trying to provide credible and useful information to our fellow sport scientists. In this issue, we continue with nutrition for female athletes with Simone do Carmo, and question strength and performance with Dr Jason Tee. Then, David Leith talks minimalist and barefoot running, and Hanno van Vuuren is graciously filling in for Dr Wilbur Kraak, taking us through some practical aspects of bodyweight training. I’m very excited to introduce Dr Tom Mitchell who shares his take on Athletic Identity and sport.
Delos, D., Maak, T.G. & Rodeo, S.A., 2013. Muscle injuries in athletes: enhancing recovery through scientific understanding and novel therapies. Sports health, 5(4), pp.346–52.
Jarvinen, T.A.H., Jarvinen, M. & Kalimo, H., 2013. Regeneration of injured muscle after the injury. Muscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, 3(4), pp.337–345.
Sparrow, B., Liu, J. & Wegner, D.M., 2011. Google effects on memory: cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science (New York, N.Y.), 333(6043), pp.776–778.
Varshney, L.R., 2012. The Google effect in doctoral theses. Scientometrics, 92(3), pp.785–793.