electronic papers and availability

Stephen P. Rae srae at MUSCI.COM
Thu Mar 20 13:13:44 CST 1997

At 11:32 PM 3/19/97 -0600, Robert Poole wrote:
>I would like to make a couple of comments on two related topics that are
>currently being discussed on taxacom; the availability of a thesis and
>electronic publication.
I second your argument on using the Internet to supplement the traditional
high cost print media paradigm now in use.  My area is mosses.  When
collecting information on mosses in California, I benefited from being a
student in the UC system (with easy physical access to both UC Berkeley and
UC Davis libraries).  However, I found the more significant information to
be hidden away within herbarium cabinets in several herbaria around the state.

That was in 1972-1975.  During 1991-1992 I updated my CA species list.
There was nothing available in print media, nothing on the then new
electronic network, but I found more in additional herbaium cabinets.

I found interesting material within unpublished MS theses, but was never
certain about its accuracy. Many points had to be verified.  The researcher,
advisor, or committee member needed t be found and interviewed.

Now I am at 1997 where information transfer via the Internet provides a
capability to see whatever a researcher (or casual investigator) cares to
share with the world.  And, better than ever before, I can query the person
to ask "is this really what you found, or mean????".

As a research tool, the Internet is without equal.  It provides a capability
that cannot be duplicated by legacy media libraries.  However, do I diminish
the value of previously printed materials?  Not actually.  But, I am
suggesting that the current exhaustive searches of the literature may be
somewhat wasteful if we end up locating many overlapping publications (ie.
those that cite the same original work over again).  Perhaps workers today
are finding they are closer to the original information than ever before,
and therefore, having to make professional judgements that others can second
guess easily because then can readily access the same stuff.

Now, I don't exist in academia.  That is, I do not suffer under the P or P
peril (you know, get it in print, or get out).  So I value the immediacy of
the Internet.  Material gets out promptly, gets revised when necessary, and
yanked when appropriate.  Of course, HTML files are not permanent on the
Internet.  I can save a file, as can others.  But, what happens when a
valuable site is lost due to loss of the individual who kept it together?  A
person leaves a job and files are erased.  Or, an accident occurs to the
person and no one else has direct responsibility.  This is the area of
concern where print media has attributes surpassing the Internet (hard copy
permanence).  Perhaps our efforts need to address how to achieve some
longevity where information maintenance is warranted.  Maybe a mixture of
electronic files to stimulate access and use, coupled with a modicum of
retention for archival materials.  You know, a little like the regional
flora grants that NSF put out 10-12 years ago.

My bottom line is that the value of a thesis is usually less than the paper
on which it is printed.  If the material is on the Internet and has been
commented on by the professional community (or anyone else with some
competence), then a value has been assigned and the material can be weighted
for research value.  Perhaps a moderated list server for theses publication
would be helpful.  (I'm glad this comment comes to you directly and not over
the list - I can just imagine the academic response to more review of theses
and dissertations).  A thought, I run a www site (including server) with a
list server capability.  We could start such a service to stir up the water.

I hope these thoughts are useful.  You stimulated some reaction from me.
Maybe the circle can spread..

Stephen P. Rae
Plant Ecologist - Bryologist

Stephen P. Rae

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