Rural System, Inc.
 Sustained rural lands; sustained profits

Going After Information

Notes for a Clearfork Community Meeting
March, 2003

by Robert H. Giles, Jr., Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Virginia Tech, March, 2003

As for almost everything, there are tricks. This is a little paper about the tricks of going after information. Having information is fun; going after it is only fun for a few people. For the rest, it is very hard work. Like cooking, it has to be done, whether it is fun or not. I'm assuming we are not just having fun or that we are not people who just love knowledge for the sake of knowing things. That is wonderful, but it's just not us. We need information to improve work, reduce risks, make money, invent, solve problems, and improve efficiencies.

Classic scientific research is one way to go after information. It is very efficient. Yelling, "That stove is very hot!" is a sure sign that you got information in another way. There are at least seven to eight more ways to learn things and to know them. Scientific research is just one such way. It is merely some steps:

  1. get an idea or see something interesting;
  2. form an hypothesis;
  3. collect information;
  4. set up an experiment and conduct it;
  5. analyze the data;
  6. draw a conclusion;
  7. report the results (for feedback) to the scientific community.

There are modern situations in which the scientific method will not work. We need to concentrate on going after information for the purposes of all of us here today. We can get information from books and libraries. We need to do it. Here's how…but we need to think about the future, costs, maintenance, personnel, and benefits per unit cost or the benefit-to-cost ratio as we do it. We need to take a systems approach to information gathering.

Trick 1 - No more "nice to know," only "need to know."We have some big problems and only limited resources, time, people, and a scary wartime future. We live "far out" and it takes gas to get there, and even if we were rich, the gasoline prices will make us poor, soon. Things have changed: decide on only need-to-know work. Stay away from interesting things. Bright people always find them. Stick to the topic only.

Trick 2 - Never say "all of the information on…"If you do, you have designed a failure. The time, costs, etc. are prohibitive. Ph. D.'s after 5 years have failed to do that very thing and have not gotten their degree because they failed to get "it all."

Trick 3 - Comb the topic.

Like using a comb on the dog after a romp in the autumn leaves and weed seeds, we have to comb the topic. We have to be very precise about the objective. Time spent on this will seem to be, but will not be, wasted. You may not work a shaggy idea. You do not have permission to leave the idea for a library study lying around with burrs. Here are the examples of strokes on a shaggy example:

Trick 4 - Write a tentative outline.Yes you can! You already know more than you realize or will admit. You have to try and make an effort. This, even if very bad, will be helpful. You can see the minimum topics for the outline just in wrestling with the objectives above…fur, food, meat, economics, nutrition, budget estimates, housing, etc.

Trick 5 - Ask someone. People know "stuff." They can only be so wrong! Get help. Get the key words that they use. Get the names of experts and other people to ask questions. Begin "networking" or forming little information communities…so referrals will be made.

Trick 6 - Use keywords.Never go to a library without first having a list of key words that you can use in your searches in various files, indices, etc. Keep expanding the list for the first 2-3 visits.

Trick 7 - Use 4-inch x 6-inch slips of paper.You have to make efficient use of the notes you take from the sources you find (including conversations with experts). Take all of the notes on slips of paper wherever you are. Move them around, re-file and re-organize them in several test ways, then type them on the computer word processor. Use the outline; it will help. "Cut and paste" using the power of the word processor

Trick 8 - Keep good notes on sources. Always give credit to people, quotes or other comments, even the opposing ideas. Take a standard note on each source on a slip. You will be excited by finding ideas and data and forget to write the source. At the end you will have to include them…and that will take you hours to re-locate the source. Do it right, right at the time. Save time.

Trick 9 - Use teams. A team approach is better in information gathering than in basketball. Using the above, a team of three to four people involved for a day (single transportation, help, get group service from a librarian, lunch-time visit with an expert, sharing hot leads, etc.) can produce wonders (file the reference-source slips in a common place so other team members can use them and reduce boring copying time). Use several typists and have them email the parts to a common place.

Trick 10 - Play the skeptic. Ask as you read, ask "Why has this not been implemented? How can she be so sure? What was his evidence for this statement? What makes this so new (worth publishing)?" It is ok to summarize or repeat something but say that you have done so in your report. Play the role of the detective, the tough newspaper reporter, or the prosecuting attorney. Answers can lead to new findings, and they can help you avoid making mistakes or a report with flaws in it.

Trick 11 - Celebrate. If done well, going after information is hard work. Brag about the final or near-final report. Include the typist(s) (if any) in the celebration. Be sure that the report goes somewhere ("on the shelf" does not count). Human time is very valuable, priceless. It must not be wasted or hidden.

Going on the Internet

Libraries were once places for books. That was until a few years ago the only place to go for doing studies. Now the information resources are abundant through the Internet. Every field has its own key sources and favorite links. The following can be useful and are selected for what may be local interests (this entire note is now on the Internet where just by a click you can access each of the following select sources without having to type in complicated dddresses):

  1. National Council for Science and Environment
  2. Congressional Research Service Reports
  3. PopPlanet (population, health, etc.)
  4. Geological Society of America (online journals, etc.)
  5. Columbia Earthscape (vast resources)
  6. Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Publishing Coalition
  7. BioOne (an aggregation of bioscience journals)
  8. Conserve Online (Nature Conservancy)
  9. Find Articles (free article search)
  10. National Information Services Corporation
  11. US Geologic Survey - Biological Resources Division
  12. Alternet Alternative Journalism
  13. Biostatistical Software
  14. Center for Biological Diversity
  15. Forest Stewardship Council - and a comparison of procedures in Ecology and Society
  16. Sustainable Energy and Economy Network
  17. Earth Justice
  18. Draftwood - horse drawn logging - (display and educational potentials)
  19. Give Water -
  20. The Sustainability Project
  21. Department of the Interior Home Page
  22. NASA Quest (education and question searches)
  23. Southern Appalachians Biological Information Node
  24. US Census - Quick Facts on Tennessee
  25. Managing Wholes - Designing a Future that Works
  26. Native Fish Conservancy
  27. Redefining Progress
  28. Environmental
  29. Watershed Management Council
  30. Institute for Local Self Reliance
  31. Wildlife Habitat Council
  32. Keyhole Company- 3-D GIS work
  33. (GIS sources)
  34. National Environmental and Education Partnership
  35. Middlesboro, KY Weather
  36. Sample - Moths of North America
  37. Environmental Awards (news of funding)
  38. NRCS Field Office Technical Guides - Soil Conservation etc.
  39. Forest Stewardship Trust Projects
  40. New American Communities -
  41. Fast Company rural project -
  42. Appalachian Center for Economic Networks - Food Ventures
  43. Future Generations
  44. The John Heinz Center (a representative institute?) -
  45. Environmental Defense - The Private Lands Opportunity: The Case for Conservation Incentives (pdf format sample)-
  46. Gennis Agency - marketing but see agricultural links -
  47. Geostatistics - software for purchase
  48. National Agroforestry Center Silvopastoral topics
  49. Medical Diagnosis in Spanish - Program for purchase ($90) -
  50. County Business Data -
  51. Aquaculture link sample
  52. Conservation Ecology - sample online journal -
  53. Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
  54. Eagles Nesting (picture updated every 15 minutes)
  55. The Rabbit Web

Search Engines

A Publisher Strategy

Get book titles from the publishers with a search, then go to libraries:

  6. Virtually all other main publishers-
  7. Buy a book online (also from all of the above)
  8. New York Times on the web for free

Now it is possible to do major amounts of work at remote sites. Develop major manuscripts and reports, and briefings - mail them at no cost to those having needs. It is possible now to scan articles, and add them to an electronic library, even put that entire library on a CD and give or sell it to others needing such a collection of materials.

People in the community can become a source of information because they will soon know how to go after it. They can become major users of information, gatherers, scanners, packagers, summarizers, and distributors. By forming a network with others around the world with common interests, wonderful new knowledge bases can be built. Early ideas for an enterprise for a rural knowledge base are at . Those ideas may be ignored. The information needs, nevertheless, are great and the potential gains unlimited. Next…after getting information, use it well to improve the Rural System for all of its people over a very long time.
Perhaps you will share ideas with me
about some of the topic(s) above at

Maybe we can work together
... for the good of us all
... for a long time.

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