Science literature and the internet

Science literature and the internet

Science, like most academic disciplines, is tradition bound and has resisted the internet. The most important scientific journals are now online, but the rest of the electronic world was online a decade ago. The democratizing effect of the net disturbs classical perceptions of scientific communication.

On the other hand, the internet offers great advantages including hypertext which permits real time access to peripheral information. Collecting paper references or following reference chains is painstaking even with good library access. Hypertext facilitates not only following chains, but makes definitions and procedures accessible with the click of a mouse. The ease of creating links encourages better documentation and allows more flexible navigation. Word searches enhance accessibility of information.

The ability to edit electronic data in real time simplifies correction and updating but makes documents impermanent. The benefit of higher quality documents should offset impermanence.

Much useful, older literature is no longer cited and some isn't yet catalogued in electronic databases. As this literature arrives in electronic format, the most useful (small) fraction of it will again be available. This creates a niche for those who care to search old literature to resurrect and catalog lost information.

The internet makes it feasible to include useful, but nonessential, figures and experiments. These can be incorporated into linked pages without interrupting the flow of the most relevant information. In fact much scientific literature would benefit from removing technical aspects from primary information flow (as in Science and Nature articles.)

At first glance proliferation of internet literature may seem to dilute the quality of science. On the other hand ready availability, accessibility and rapid publishing speed information flow. Information reaches a wider audience. Site visits are effective peer review. The best pages are visited and linked most often and will gain recognition in the same way as highly cited papers. Individual researchers can monitor site visits to rank usefulness of their pages. Online format invites e-mail communication with authors.

The younger generation will encourage migration of information to electronic format.