Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Electronic publishing and the narrowing of science and scholarship

A recent publication in Science by James Evans came the intriguing conclusion that:
... ironically... one of the chief values of print library research is poor indexing. Poor indexing - indexing by titles and authors, primarily within core journals- likely had unintended consequences that assisted the integration of science and scholarship. By drawing researchers through unrelated articles, print browsing and perusal may have faciliated broader comparisons and led researchers into the past. Modern graduate education parallels this shift in publication - shorter in years, more specialized in scope, culminating less frequently in a true dissertation than an album of articles.

The move to online science appears to represent one more step on the path initiated by the much earlier shift from the contextualized monograph, like Newton's Principia or Darwin's Origin of Species, to the modern research article. The Principia and Origin, each produced over the course of more than a decade, not only were engaged in current debates, but wove their propositions into conversation with astronomers, geometers, and naturalists from centuries past. As 21st-century scientists and scholars use online searching and hyperlinking to frame and publish their arguments more efficiently, they weave them into a more focused- and more narrow-past and present.

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