Friday, August 21, 2009

Or he could have asked me a vet med librarian

I had noticed this back in the 1990s when I was writing my own articles and/or helping professors do their research. On-line didn’t mean better research, and sometimes it didn’t mean faster.
    James Evans writes for Britannica Blog: “For a report published in Science (July 18, 2008), I used a database of 34 million articles, their citations (1945 to 2005) and online availability (1998 to 2005), and showed that as more journals and articles came online, the actual number of them cited in research decreased, and those that were cited tended to be of more recent vintage. This proved true for virtually all fields of science. (Note that this is not a historical trend…there are more authors and universities citing more and older articles every year, but when journals go online, references become more shallow and narrow than they would have been had they not gone online.)

    Moreover, the easy online availability of sources has channeled researcher attention from the periphery to the core—to the most high-status journals. In short, searching online is more efficient, and hyperlinks quickly put researchers in touch with prevailing opinion, but they may also accelerate consensus and narrow the range of findings and ideas grappled with by scholars.”
When professors came to the library, sat down with their favorite, generalist journal on medicine, biochemistry, nutrition, or cancer, they would scan the table of contents, and couldn’t avoid seeing areas of interest outside their own, something to perk a brain cell in a new direction. On-line database searching narrows and refines, but it also imprisons the mind.

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