The Nature of Information in the Age of the Internet


internetThere has never been a more difficult time to be a swimming coach. Or a doctor, a lawyer, a journalist, a general, or an Indian Chief. Or any other profession that relies on Credibility.

The finest thing in our lives for finding “information” is also the WORST thing in our lives for finding accurate, contextual information.

Information without context, “is the Devil.”

As any of the above individuals can tell you. Patients (clients, swim parents, readers or ordinary Indians) go ON LINE to get primary information about what they want to know.

What they find there can range from spectacularly good, to pure gibberish enhanced with fancy marketing and emotional response forming words. (Like “Science” as an example… more on that later.)

So as swimming coaches, we have parents and athletes going online and finding all sorts of trash that contradicts what any experienced, well-educated, trained and sensible coach would advise for that athlete. Of course, this happens every day on every swim team of every level in the world.

Sorting the gems from the rocks depends on experience, background and contextual education. None of which parents or swimmers have (and lots of young coaches lack as well).

Below is a provision of the hierarchy of the types of information we all can find and use.

  1. REAL SCIENCE – Real science is published studies in a peer-reviewed specific journal on your subject. Real scientists evaluate and assault their peers “scientific studies” until they are done in a manner that the scientific community accepts. This the only thing worthy of being called science. Look for the term “peer-reviewed.” NOTHING ELSE IS SCIENCE. This is the most dependable type of information. It is also scarce. In swimming, it’s called the “Journal of Swimming Research” Dr. Jan Prins, editor. It is a time proven, academically accepted process of impeccable reliability.
  2. Fake Science (of various levels of accuracy and duplicity). Calling something science does not make it science. LOTS of “Journals” are not peer reviewed. In fact, you pay a fee and they publish your “research.” This is also known as PR for a product. It’s usually, but not always, fake stuff that can’t pass muster by a peer-reviewed Journal. A fake academic who wants publishing credits takes this route. There is TONS of this nonsense readily findable on the internet. It’s worse than an “opinion”, its fraud because its masquerading by appealing to you with a term that doesn’t actually apply, called “science.” (A “grail” we have been taught since childhood to worship at.) Remember, doing “research” is not science. I am sure “research” exists that proves Oreo cookies are good for you. (I love Oreos.)
  3. Opinion or anecdotal reports. This is what happens at every coaches clinic in the world. A coaching peer gets up behind a microphone and tells you what they think. They base what they think on their experiences and their knowledge. This can range from fantastic, state of the art stuff from highly knowledgeable people, to more utter trash. Use the “credibility test” to determine which you think is which…ask yourself and the speaker “why should I listen to you?” and the answer you want is “I’ve been there and done that…I’ve achieved coaching success over decades (years, months?) and repeated it. Coaching 20 Olympians gives you more credibility than coaching one. Coaching one gives you more credibility than someone pretending to tell you how to coach an Olympian who has never coached one. Having coached successfully for 20 years in a parent owned program has way more credibility than a shrink who wants to tell you how to deal successfully with swimming parents. Of course, our sport has LOTS of Guru’s, who don’t actually coach anyone, but want to tell you how to do it. In my opinion, STEER CLEAR. There is an old expression here that says “If you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” If you are listening to a physiologist tell you how to coach, guess what he will tell you the “secret” to coaching is?

    The organization I have worked for (the American Swimming Coaches Association), for the past 30 years, largely believes in and promotes this sort of information. Education from experienced professionals. Coaches regularly know that things “work” that scientists can’t figure out yet Why they work, so the “Real science” doesn’t/can’t report on it. (see “Hypoxic training” for an example. Everyone does it, everyone knows it works, NO ONE can tell us WHY, YET.)

    Science is the best. But science RE-SEARCHES what we already know. Some coach out there has solved the problem you face, already, but they are not scientists, haven’t done the research, and so it’s NOT YET SCIENCE. If you want to be “cutting edge”, listen to experienced, accomplished, successful coaches.

  4. Of course, the last category is an advertising, which can also pass on information. Some ads look like articles. Read carefully. Be discerning, be cynical. Especially on blogs, which are usually thinly disguised ads.

WE CAN LEARN SOMETHING FROM ALL OF THE CATEGORIES ABOVE. Nothing wrong with seeking them out. (I look at ADS all the time! As do you.)

But understand the hierarchy of information out there for any of us on any topic under the sun.

All the Best, John Leonard

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