Wednesday, May 12, 2021

SearchResearch Challenge (5/12/21): How to do slow research?



1.5 million balloons over Cleveland

... that you want to write a book about something that you only partly understand but find fascinating.  Obviously, you want to spend some time coming up to speed, perhaps learning about the area over the next year or so.  

How would you do that?  

What would you actually do to become an autodidact (that is, a self-taught person) in that topic?  While there are many things one could do (take an online class, read a lot of books, subscribe to blogs and vlogs)... is there some way to get information on this topic in a regular way?  Some way to skim off the latest writings on your topic and get a constant feed of information?  

Let's call this slow research.  In many ways, this is the opposite of the quick Google search; it's not the same as just finding the factoid you want as rapidly as possible. 

Instead, this is research over time, letting deeper understanding of a topic emerge, develop, and grow into something rich and marvelous. 

The question for us is how do you do this?  

There are many ways to answer this, but let's frame this as an SRS Challenge: 

Suppose I want to write a book on this topic: 

Sometimes when you take an action, something very unforeseen happens as a consequence after that action is taken.

For example: in 1986, the Cleveland United Way charity planned on releasing 2 million balloons as kind of spectacle, with donors pitching in to sponsor a balloon.  But with a storm coming into the city, they decided to release the  balloons early, causing all kinds of problems with the flood of balloons in the area, ultimately causing a net loss for the charity along with a host of problems.  

Note that the topic is NOT "balloons" or "charity" or "disasters," but it's about the effect of making one decision (the early release of balloons) and the after-effects that followed from that bad choice.  

And so the Challenge for this week is... 

1. How would you set up a continuing stream of information to you about this topic?  This is partly a question about the way to do this, but also a question about what the search terms should be.  What would you do?  How would you search for this phenomenon?  

Suggestions welcome (I really AM writing a book on this topic, and I'm curious what good advice you'd give to said author).  

Search on! 


  1. Risks digest -- haven't seen that in decades!

  2. I love the question Dan; it's one close to my motivation for working on . The answer we took there is not fully satisfactory in my view, but it's a starting point and a practical experiment in participatory recommendations. tldr: we propose you write down your intention, invite people who know, curate, and automatically run a set of google searches (evolving to fancier NLU based ML) that you evolve over time, so you get reminded you about your interest frequently, and hopefully find some relevant stuff. The curation part I think is important. It's like having a blog but focused on what you care about, and being able to organise it. I think we need to do a lot more on Keen for organisation features too. But it's a very small team working on it. Anyway, if you come across other ideas here, I'd love to know too and see what we can experiment with in Keen to help.

  3. Hello Dr Russell

    It's a great and interesting Challenge. I don't have a clue about how to search or at least how to start. I'd love if you can give us, next week with the answer, more examples of this kind of searches.

    I'd love to read the book! I also wondering, the Challenges about Pandemic in 1918 and Covid-19 can be transformed in slow SearchResearch Challenges?

    1. Happy Teacher's Day and Appreciation Week, Dr. Russell!

      Thanks for sharing your time and knowledge with us and with me

      Google Doodle Día del Maestro:

  4. I would think of certain keywords of interest and then set up a Google Alert on those topics.


  5. First idea: No good deed goes unpunished Source from shows this phrase has been around since the 12th century. Almost as long as me.

  6. This made me think of the law of unintended consequences. There is a Wikipedia article on the subject ( I think Google Alerts or RSS feeds could be helpful, once you identify some good sources.

  7. Slow research is pretty much the norm in academia, at least at the graduate level. Collecting information and data, organizing that information and data so that it makes sense, discarding information and data that is repetitive or off topic, and rethinking the entire topic multiple times is all part of the process.

    Your topic is very broad. The unintended consequences of taking an action are part and parcel of the science and psychology of decision making. There are a number of books that have been best-sellers on the topic. Daniel Kahnemann's Thinking Fast and Slow is one (he also did a talk at Google in 2011, which you might have attended). Malcolm Gladwell's Blink is another. Google Books surfaces many more. And those are just the ones written for a popular rather than an academic audience.

    You may also find dissertations on the topic. The touchstone for dissertations is ProQuest's dissertation database that requires a paid subscription. However, there are free versions that contain fewer titles (,, and Some also show up in Google Scholar.

    Add to that journal articles and you face the chronic problem of the scholar: Too much information. Your story of the balloons lies in the public policy realm. But other examples come from science, neuropsychology, politics, the military, sociology, business, and other fields. You could devote a chapter each to various disciplines where unintended consequences have appeared.

    As for terminology, what comes to my mind are concepts around unintended consequences, decision making ramifications, neurodiversity in decision making, intuitive judgement, poor decisions, poor choices, heuristics, cognitive bias, results from actions, thinking it through, impulsivity, and taking action without thinking.

    I hope these rather nebulous ideas spark some other terminology here in the comments.

  8. I suggest the search term is "project management" You the Manager of your project should likely have a professional manager with accredited certification.

    The seemingly main areas of concern on a project might be:
    People: who is going to do what? Do I need architects, Major Generals, Pilots or Pirates or?
    Materiel: what stuff do I need: pencils, bombs, PR folks, carpenters or who else?
    Environment: what studies and reports might be needed ? Who does them and how long and what detail?

    Most Important: intense study of "What could possibly go wrong?": Need a disrupter like Elon Musk to upset all the Yes Yes people. A money person to determine what the financial costs of disaster might be. And to itemise and prioritise-triage if you will-disaster scenarios.

    Still need to work on the streaming part of your Challenge

  9. Information Trapping: Real-time Research on the Web by Tara Calishain would definitely be part of my response.

  10. So now the slow research part: an example that could take 50 years

    A First Nations band is going to build a large community for its members nearby. Instantly involved were the people who sprayed racist graffiti an the major road; The Feds are involved too; as are the Provincial regulators; as well as Local gov't; as well as the community of people already here; and some others. Clearly needing to be added to their Project Management team (see my earlier note) is a communications and a PR dept. There has been no discussion at all of the ramifications with its neighbours. We discovered by a newspaper ad that sewerage effluent was going to dumped in the ocean right beside a popular beach. On it shall go for many years.

    So, tapping into (streaming) all the dozens of stakeholder departments involved will surely mean we will hear from time to time of regulations and permits for fresh water and effluent and hosts of other things will continue for decades. Very Slow Research. I have only to follow 2 decades worth.

    A most edifying and productive process at work here. Even if it is not what You had in mind. j tU

  11. After checking Google Books for fairly current books on the topic of decision-making, I'd follow the blogs of select authors (such as Annie Duke) for a constant, steady stream of choice-making information.