James Evans in Science’s abstract
Online journals promise to serve more information to more dispersed audiences and are more efficiently searched and recalled. But because they are used differently than printâ€”scientists and scholars tend to search electronically and follow hyperlinks rather than browse or peruseâ€”electronically available journals may portend an ironic change for science. Using a database of 34 million articles, their citations (1945 to 2005), and online availability (1998 to 2005), 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. The forced browsing of print archives may have stretched scientists and scholars to anchor findings deeply into past and present scholarship. 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.
That last statement, with my bolding, is the one that I think is especially interesting. Do we reach consensus more quickly because we can quickly skim through work? Or have we always looked at past and present scholarship to found our opinions and not to change them?
I think it is quite likely that last.
I have been working on a topic that I have only recently overcome the emotional impact associated with it. As I have begun to look on the net for where my conversation might be placed, I tend to ignore those which go in a different direction. I think that was true when I first began studying the topic in print as well.
If they don’t match my direction, I leave them out. However, it is easier now to find those works which clearly lead into my topic. That may be why people do less citation.
Obviously this is for students. But it’s a good thing to offer them, especially if you have students who have not been exposed to the internet before.
Hints for doing an on-line search:
1. Make sure you spell any names or words correctly.
2. Include clue words that are in the directions.
An example from Hawthorne is â€œthemes, influences, subject matter, and critical reception.â€
3. Use different forms of clue words.
Example: critic, critique, criticism, critical.
4. Examine sites that seem to have what you want. Sometimes the section you want is embedded in the site and is not easy to find. You have two choices; your first is to quit and the second is to keep looking.
5. If you find a good site, bookmark it.
Examples of good sites:
Perspectives in American Literature
A list of links in literature by category.
The Victorian Web for all things Victorian.
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature with just about everything in it.
Core Knowledge quotes Ron Isaac saying they are.
But I wonder.
It could be just because I am older than dirt, but I remember students coming in with all their sources from the encyclopedia, the dictionary, and their parents’ magazines, or even a piece of junk mail. They could and did find awful sources.
However, if they went to the library, then they would find better sources. Our school library didn’t stock unreliable books. The journals there actually were scholarly. So, if they went to the library, the students could find reliable sources. And they did.
Now my students give me Wikipedia, online dictionaries, and MySpace sources. They didn’t have to work to find those sources.
But with a little more effort, going to the online library from the college, they can find good ones.
So, no, I don’t think our students researching skills are any poorer. I think they may not understand what they are being asked to find, but they aren’t poorer. Of course, they aren’t any better either.