The New York Times wrote a piece the other day on a professor of management science at Insead who has written over 200,000 books.
An Author search over at Amazon.com reveals many esoteric and very narrowly focused titles such as “The 2007 Import and Export Market for Electrical Relays Used with Circuits of Up to 1,000 Volts in Ireland (Paperback)” which evidently sells for $66 for 34 pages.
The Times article explains how he writes these books: he uses an algorithm to search publicly available data, dump it into a Word document, organize it, create graphs, title pages, summaries, and on and on. His idea is to literally automate content creation.
Automated content creation.
If the idea of that doesn’t scare you already then watch this YouTube video.
There’s no Librarian, there’s no author, and with book printing on demand, there’s no publisher either. Just a computer program, a set of databases and a person with a question.
Most of us in academia see the problem with this right away: he’s not really writing a book, he’s just compiling data and presenting it in book format. This isn’t original research; nothing is created, no new knowledge gained. But it is the type of research that many people currently come to the library to do; information seeking and compiling.
He may call it “content creation” but it’s really not, no more than blowing my nose into a tissue is creating a new issue called “The Annals of Tim’s Nostril Emissions 2008.” That is to say, the creation takes place before and this is simply a compilation of other people’s works. This is a glorified literature review, at best.
In the video, he goes on to posit that he could create virtual faculty and virtual facilities that could teach students with friendly virtual professors that look like Geckos and whatnot. But again, as he does with research and writing he gives short shrift to actual teaching, real learning, and knowledge creation.
Still, it is worrying how many of his books receive acclaim from their readers. The Times article attributes this to people who really don’t understand how to do basic search.
I guess someone is profiting off people who can’t do basic research.