Scientific Communication

I saw a recent blog post about how the American Chemical Society was going to phase out hard copies of the journals that they produce – going strictly online in the future.

Now, this has probably been coming for a while – I’d say >95% of the journal articles I read in the last five years have been acquired by downloading the PDF version and printing it out locally.   A decade or so ago (and before that), you would most likely be photocopying a paper out of a journal by hand in the chemistry library.

The chemistry library.  There’s an institution that is probably going to be as rare as a Blockbuster Video store in the next few years.  It’s weird to think that they’re obsolete (though my own practice suggested it) because I spent a lot of time in them as a student and young scientist.  UNC had a good one (it’s no longer there) that was the epicenter of both learning (Do you have the latest issue of Nature?) and grad-student personal drama (Do you know who I saw Steve sitting with in the library!?!?  You’ll never believe it!).

DuPont had a library that was three stories tall and took up a city block.  It was awesome.  You could go and peruse tables of contents and see what was going on in fields that weren’t necessarily your own.  These days, it’s all done with keyword searches and email updates, and even though it’s more efficient, I became a lot less conversant in nearby fields.  Hrmmm.

I suppose like all things, even scientific communication changes.  I remember making the BIG change from slides (that you shot yourself!) to PowerPoint presentations.   And today, I came across a series of videos from a group at the University of California at Davis about food safety (which is very important in the summer, don’cha know).

I’m not exactly sure why Frodo (or is that Sam?) is the “protagonist” or why our heroes are so mad about getting food poisoning that they go after him.  I mean, I don’t think he meant to do it!  

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16 thoughts on “Scientific Communication

  1. Or maybe [this is not-so good]? We definitely miss out on something when we make information only accessible electronically, especially when it's not easy to free-form browse. I used to do that with the giant multi-volume encyclopedias and come across subjects I had no idea had articles written about them.On another note – yet another coincidence – the day you blog about food safety is the day I blog about food establishment inspection scores!

  2. Ha – love the video. Great points too.
    I'm with Ross – and here I go with a completely anti-tree philosophy, I think that something really big is lost when tangible forms of science are gotten rid of, and that includes journals. I like scribbling, end of story. Chemistry library – that sounds cool.

  3. I have long memories of spending entire afternoons copying papers. I used to devote Friday afternoons to my do my literature searches. At some point during my postdoc I stopped going and started downloading. I had so much more free time to use in the lab that I didn't know what to do with it (that is a lie, there is always more to do in the lab). Do I miss the library? I guess I do when you mention all the other non-related topics I would get sucked into. But I do not miss the paper cuts, or the pages that were cut off because the bound journals were too fat to photocopy properly.

  4. Ross — I would often scan the ToC for several journals and learn about something that was going on in a field near — but not quite — my own. Often that would lead to an insight or inspiration — that seems gone these days.

  5. Ellie — yeah — there's something that's good about something being "tangible" — I think that's why I still like books over something like a Kindle.

  6. AKK — I remember having an index card with the different journals I would keep track of — and I would go down to the library and check off the issue numbers as I covered them. Not only was is something that I did — it was something that I was EXPECTED to do.I think there's something about that kind of scholarship that gets sacrificed in the current must-make-the-most-of-every-second culture.

  7. Really interesting post. On the one hand I do feel sad like everyone else here – it's an era gone. This must be exactly how our grandparents have felt throughout their lives as they watched radio go to TV, etc. etc. And we're getting so incredibly specialized, it's hard to be a generalist in anything anymore. It's amazing (and we're getting old – ye gads).

  8. oh, man. i remember those overhead slides… moving to powerpoint was so amazing. i used to love using the card catalogs in libraries. i miss them…

  9. I must admit, I love libraries, so i mourn the loss. I amnot a total fan of the kindle device, there is just something aboutt he way a book, journal etc feels in your hands.
    I spent a great dealof time in the reading room at the U of R, great social area (quiet, but social), beautiful lovely long tables and good light. It's gotta be wired now every kind of media….
    Man we are getting old.

  10. Hapa — the transition of technology is (and its accelerating pace) is an interesting one. I don't ever want to become one of those "Get off my lawn!" sort of older persons — though I have staunchly resisted Twitter.

  11. Hey GB!! Yep — I was a grad student in Chemistry at UNC in Chapel Hill from 1988 through the end of 1992. The DuPont stint though was at the mothership in Wilmington, Delaware.

  12. Katie — I think if I had a job that required a lot of travel, I might give the Kindle a tryout, but for sitting out in the backyard, or relaxing on the couch, I still want the book.

  13. I resisted Twitter for a long time too. Now I Twitter, but only for work. Interestingly, it's for two reasons — #1 is because you can post links back to your site which increase your search engine ranking (kind of a loophole in the existing Google algorithm?). #2 is to be the "thought leader" in your space and get your customers to engage… but really it's all about reason #1 for us. It's had a big effect.

  14. If the Kindle wasn't so darn expensive, I'd buy one in an instant. I read a surprising amount on my mobile phone nowadays – the screen is tiny and I'm constantly paging through a book, but the convenience of having a bunch of different books available in one source is very addicting, once you get used to it.That's not to say it's going to replace the printed word in my house anytime soon – sometimes I just need to handle a book and flip pages.

  15. Hapa — interestingly, I first used IM in a work environment — it was adapted so that people (programmers) didn't have to keep using the phone (in a cubicle environment) — or get up and walk around, of course… :)

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