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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Summer 1997

Book Reviews

Judy Matthews
Physics-Astronomy Library
Michigan State University

From Print to Electronic: The Transformation of Scientific Communication. Susan Y. Crawford, Julie M. Hurd, and Ann C. Weller. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 1996. 117 p. hardbound. $39.50. (ISBN 1-57387-030-7).
This slim but substantive volume of six essays on scientific communication is the collaborative brainchild of three authors whose biographies reflect their impressive credentials as librarians and scholars of information delivery. The mission of this work is an evaluation of the extent and nature of technology's impact on traditional scientific communication, both formal and informal. The traditional Garvey/Griffith communication model of over thirty years ago analyzed the specific discipline of psychology, and mapped the steps in the scientific communication process from the beginnings of a project through the dissemination of results. Here the authors revisit that model and explore the impact of the digital world on the dispersion of scientific information and how "computer-based technologies can both enhance and alter the communications system."

Crawford's introductory chapter on scientific communication and the growth of big (and increasingly bigger) science gives an overview of the role of scientific research and its impact on American society from the late nineteenth century through the present. Hurd follows with a discussion of the old Garvey/Griffith model, a look at the Internet as a change-agent, and at other venues of communication - formal (scientific journals) informal (personal discussion), meetings and conferences, as well as a variety of other communication paradigms, including a modernized Garvey/Griffith model. Three research areas - the Human Genome Project, high energy physics, and the space sciences - are examined in separate chapters as models of current scientific information dissemination. The shift from print publishing to electronic and its ramifications for speed of transmission, peer review, and publication on these areas and on scientific publication as a whole are explored. There is also a discussion of electronic journals, standards (SGML), issues of publishing economics, and the role of informational professionals.

The electronic era has heralded myriad changes in the way scientists communicate, and raised many as-yet unanswerable questions and issues about the future. That many of the values and functions of the scientific community will remain unchanged despite emerging technologies seems to be one conclusion of this text. (It is interesting to note that this book was inspired by an in-person discussion by the authors at a scientific meeting, oral communication remaining one mainstay venue of information transfer even in the electronic age.) Hurd cites Clifford Lynch's differentiation between modernization of scientific communication, i.e. using new technologies to do the same thing, and transformation, i.e., using new technologies to change processes in a fundamental and profound way. At present there is more evidence for the former, but the future may hold astonishing surprises. At least with today's rapid, networked electronic communication we could not replicate Garvey and Griffith's finding that nearly ten years pass before research findings begin to appear in textbooks and encyclopedias as accepted knowledge.

The world wide web has had a dramatic impact on scientific communication, particularly where electronic journals are concerned. Some mention is given - author Julie Hurd includes a brief discussion in her essay on models of scientific information, for example - but coverage is not sufficient to warrant inclusion of the web as a separate subject heading in the index. A focused examination of the unique contributions of the nascent web - just four years old - as a revolutionary mechanism of information delivery would be very interesting in a future edition.

This volume would be excellent required reading for anyone wishing to comprehend the specialized world of scientific literature and communication. Certainly it is a must-read for the scientist and science librarian, for whom it is vital to stay on top of the changing issues and models of information delivery in the fast-paced disciplines of science.

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