My research focuses on how people integrate information from diverse sources, in professional environments such as interdisciplinary scientific collaborations, and in informal environments such as online social Q&A communities.  Both threads of my research address the question of how people without a shared context, be they scientists from different disciplines or strangers on the Web, evaluate, reconcile, share and perpetuate often-conflicting information.   By studying similar processes in diverse environments, I see my research as a bridge to help traditionally separate communities inform one another.

One of my primary research areas is in the domain of Social Q&A (SQA): online systems allowing people to ask, answer and interact.  Since their introduction in 2003, SQA sites such as Yahoo! Answers have enabled and popularized new forms of social information seeking, where people seek and share information not through librarians or search engines, but from one another.  Bypassing traditional structures of authority, expertise and publishing has serious implications for the design and evolution of professional information services, and understanding the extent to which a document’s topical relevance balances with its popularity—and how this relationship might be influenced or gamed—is one key application of my SQA research.

My SQA research addresses questions of how participants produce, evaluate and synthesize diverse content, to identify patterns of collaboration, peer production and content evaluation.  SQA interactions are inherently social, so my research also addresses questions of how people gain expertise and co-create norms within online communities, and the extent to which the model of aggregate peer authority underlying SQA compares with traditional forms of expertise.  A review and synthesis of the SQA literature I published in JASIST has become one of the most highly cited papers in the field of SQA since its 2011 publication (Gazan 2011).  Some of my SQA research findings include:

The opportunities and dangers of increasing reliance on user-generated and user-vetted information sources require concerted study.  To that end, I am Co-PI with Chirag Shah of Rutgers University on a 3-year, $491K Institute of Museum and Library Services grant to study online Q&A in STEM education.  From 2016-2019 we will develop and field test a Q&A module that will allow STEM learners to assess crowdsourced information alongside more traditionally authoritative sources.   

I also conduct research on interdisciplinary scientific collaborations, primarily with the NASA Astrobiology Institute.  Coordinating and integrating the work of diverse researchers is a perennial challenge in large-scale science, and this is a natural extension of my SQA research: allowing multiple possible answers or disciplinary perspectives to be displayed, ranked and debated generates more engagement and participation than a traditional one-question, one-answer (or monodisciplinary) structure.

I began to address the question of how to integrate the work of diverse scientists in 2009, as a Co-Investigator on Water and Habitable Worlds, a 5-year, $7M NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) grant, where I worked with scientists from a wide range of disciplines including astronomy, chemistry, oceanography and biology, both at UH and at NAI teams nationwide, studying life beyond Earth.  Through this grant, ICS doctoral students Lisa Miller and Mike Gowanlock worked with me to develop the Astrobiology Integrative Research Framework (AIRFrame), a system and set of services to visualize and relate the work of astrobiology researchers from diverse disciplines, so relevant findings in one field could be made more accessible to scientists in others.  In 2013, we received a $30K NAI grant to identify metrics of interdisciplinary science. 

During my 2016 sabbatical, I was invited to NASA Ames Research Center as a Visiting Researcher to analyze and visualize changes to the astrobiology research literature over time.  The results of one project I undertook at Ames suggest that cuts in research funding have had differential impacts across astrobiology’s diverse constituent disciplines; astrobiology-related publication numbers in Astronomy journals recovered fairly quickly after the 2007-2008 budget cuts, but those in Biology and Earth Sciences have yet to reach their pre-cut levels.  For a research organization that prides itself on catalyzing interdisciplinary science, these are extremely useful metrics, and I’m currently analyzing this data in preparation for several publication submissions.

While SQA and astrobiology may seem to be disparate research areas, I have integrated both threads of my research in several papers:

In an information-drenched world, people must rely on indicators of what content is worth their attention.  My future work will investigate how both social and scientific content are integrated, translated and presented, how interdisciplinary researchers can collaborate and share information effectively, and the extent to which diverse kinds of information cross social and disciplinary boundaries, and catalyze new knowledge.

If you're interested in working in any of these areas, feel free to contact me.

Grants and proposals

Refereed journal articles and conference papers

Refereed conference presentations

Refereed book chapters

Book reviews

Invited talks

Awards and Honors

  • Visiting Researcher, NASA Astrobiology Institute, NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA (2016).
  • Nominee, Peter V. Garrod Distinguished Graduate Mentoring Award (2015-2016).
  • Nominee, Excellence in Teaching Award (2014-2015 and 2012-2013).
  • Contributor, American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) SIG Publication of the Year Award. Chapter in Diane Nahl and Dania Bilal, eds. (2008). Information & Emotion: The Emergent Affective Paradigm in Information Behavior Research and Theory. Medford, NJ: Information Today.