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KNOXVILLE – The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Center for Information and Communication Studies (CICS) has received a grant to study the trustworthiness of diverse scholarly information sources and channels.

The $271,131 grant was awarded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The study will begin in September and continue until November 2013.

The project team consists of UT professors Carol Tenopir, chancellor’s professor and director of CICS; Suzie Allard, associate professor and associate director of the School of Information Sciences; Ken Levine, associate professor in the School of Communication Studies; and David Nicholas, adjunct professor for UT and director of CIBER Research Ltd., in Newbury, England.

The broad aim of the research is to examine how emerging digital behaviors are challenging and, perhaps, changing concepts of trust and authority in the scholarly world. The team will study how researchers assign and calibrate authority and trustworthiness to the scholarly sources and channels they choose to use, cite and publish in, such as journals, websites, datasets, and social media. In particular they want to discover how researchers are coping in today’s crowded, dynamic, diverse and disintermediated digital scholarly environment where it is ever more difficult to establish the quality, veracity, authorship and authority of information. They also want to discover whether the growth in the use of social media for scholarly purposes impacts conventional practices of establishing the authority and trustworthiness of information sources and channels, such as the practice of journal citation.

The study will be international, but with an emphasis on the USA and UK, and will focus on science and social science. A four stage, incremental data collection strategy will be used. First, evidence of information seeking and use obtained from web logs of scholarly sites and the existing published literature will be gathered to help scope the research and frame the research questions. Second, focus groups with researchers will be used to explore and test what was discovered in the first stage. Third, in-depth, one-to-one interviews, together with observation, will be used to drill down into the data obtained from stage 2. Finally, a large-scale questionnaire will provide an opportunity to take the combined findings of stages 1-3 to a much larger, international audience in order to contextualise the findings and extend the reach of the study.

With the apparent changes in ways scholars exchange ideas, the implications of this research could have far-reaching impacts on fundamental scholarly beliefs about the value and trust of scholarly sources, Nicholas said.

“Clearly then, this is a strategic topic that urgently needs researching as it has major implications for universities, funding bodies, publishers, librarians and scholarship itself,” he said. “Unsurprisingly perhaps, there is a good deal of vested interest in this area, which makes it difficult to obtain adequate, ‘blue sky’ funding to research the topic and therefore we are especially grateful to the Sloan Foundation for their unfettered support.”

“Academics now have many channels and sources to learn about research and to exchange ideas,” Tenopir said. “This study will investigate how trust plays into choices of both traditional and new information channels. It will be great to work with Dave Nicholas and the CIBER team in this international study.”

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation was founded in 1934 by Alfred P. Sloan Jr., then-president and CEO of General Motors. The foundation is an independent entity and has no formal relationship with the General Motors Corporation.

The Sloan Foundation is unique in its focus on science, technology, and economic institutions. It believes the scholars and practitioners who work in these fields are chief drivers of the nation’s health and prosperity. In each grant program, the foundation seeks proposals for original projects led by outstanding individuals or teams.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is interested in projects that it expects will result in a strong benefit to society, and for which funding from the private sector, the government or other foundations is not widely available.

For more information about the Center for Information and Communications Studies, visit

For more information about the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, visit

C O N T A C T :

Donna Silvey (865-974-2148,