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Information Culture

Information Culture

Thoughts and analysis related to science information, data, publication and culture.

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At some point in elementary school, your teacher taught you about the "scientific method." Typically, this starts with observation and hypothesis forming, continues through experimentation and ends with analysis and conclusions.* But it doesn't really end there. One of the most important parts of scientific research is often overlooked: in order for those conclusions to be useful to anyone else, they must be shared.

In the early days of science, sharing scientific results was typically done via hand copied letters. But in the 17th century, folks figured out that there might be an easier way to share information and the scientific journal was born. Instead of sending individual letters, scientists sent their results to the journal, the editors printed it and sent a copy to paying subscribers.

Original cover page from the first scientific journal in 1665.

The editor of that first journal, Henry Oldenburg, introduced the very first issue by outlining the importance of sharing scientific results:

Whereas there is nothing more necessary for promoting the improvement of Philosophical Matters, than the communicating to such, as apply their Studies and Endeavors that way, such things as are discovered or put in practice by others…

Fast forward almost three and a half centuries and modern scientists share results with each other in thousands of scientific journals online, put raw data on the web in places too numerous to name and work with bloggers and journalists to explain their results to the public.

Admittedly, the "sharing" part of the scientific process isn't necessarily the most glamorous: it's hard to imagine the summer blockbuster where the scientist spends half the movie reading journal articles, or the slow dramatic closeups of filing cabinets or computer desktops cluttered with PDF files. But without having a solid grasp of the science that came before them, Watson and Crick never would have deciphered the structure of DNA and Vine and Matthews would never have collected the data needed to confirm sea floor spreading .

Understanding how scientists share their results is my job. I am a science librarian.

I work with scientists at my college to make sure that they have access to the information they need to do their work. I teach undergraduates - novice scientists - how the scientific literature works: What kinds of information are available? Where can you find what you need? How can you use the different types of information? I work with researchers to help them understand new developments in scholarly communication: What is a DOI and how can it make your research just a bit easier? Are you allowed to post a copy of your recent article on your website and what are the advantages if you do?

And as I work with students and faculty at my institution, this blog will be a place for me to share some of these concepts with you. I'll share tips to help you find information faster, explain basic concepts related to the publication of scientific results and try to figure out how recent scholarly comunication news

The world of scientific communication is more complex and layered than many folks realize. And right now it's getting even more interesting: scientists are boycotting prominent scientific publishers, taxpayers want to be able to read the results of the scientific research they funded, and online access to material can make keeping track of it all overwhelming.

Throughout all of these changes and developments one thing is constant: in order for scientific knowledge to advance, scientists need to share their results. And since scientists want to spend their time doing science, information professionals are here to help organize, filter, share, transform and make connections.

It's hard to stand on the shoulders of giants if the giants are hiding under the bed.


* Yes, yes, I know. This version of the scientific method is overly simplistic and not entirely accurate.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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