July’s edition of Science magazine includes a study that shows scientific researchers are now more inclined to get their information from the Web (specifically, “quick and dirty” searches in Google) than from specialist scientific resources.
If scientists are focusing on only a tiny bit of research – the bits served up by Google – what are typical users doing? Also, what does this mean for organisations whose user documentation or online Help is not available on the Web?
In the abstract for Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship James A. Evans (from the Department of Sociology, University of Chicago) states:
” I show that as more journal issues came online, the articles referenced tended to be more recent, fewer journals and articles were cited, and more of those citations were to fewer journals and articles. ”
“Searching online is more efficient and following hyperlinks quickly puts researchers in touch with prevailing opinion, but this may accelerate consensus and narrow the range of findings and ideas built upon.”
Evans’s research backs up JD Bernal’s concept of scientific information having a “half-life” : with researchers citing fewer journals in favour of more recent articles, papers peak (in use and citation) and then decline, regardless of their usefulness.
This also suggests another consideration when publishing static content, such as user documentation: how do you keep it fresh and found?