Screens are a problem. Not the kind on doors and windows, but the kind that so many of us spend so much time looking at on our workstations and such. Print on paper is very, very much better for reading than the display units we currently use, which are really hard on the old peepers. The search for something like e-paper has been intense, with various hot-sounding ideas cooling quickly once outside the lab. E-paper would have to be flexible, literally, so you could bend it or fold it, like, well, paper. It would also have to accept digital images and text, let them be erased and replaced by other messages, be light, cheap and so on. It’s all pretty daunting, but the potential pay-off is very high, so the search goes on. Technology Review reports on some developments from the Samsung Companyâ€™s research arm on one approach to licking the problems.
The Public Library of Science, or PLoS in shortspeak, is soliciting contributions for the inaugural issue of PLoS Clinical Trials which is set to go in 2006. The new entrant will bring the number of PLoS journals to six. The PLoS philosophy is an instantiation of the Open Access credo, according to which the results of scientific research which has been publicly funded should be disseminated as widely and as rapidly as possible, without reference to the various barriers caused by high journal subscription rates and the need for institutional affiliation as a condition for access. PLoS journals have been very visible and have attracted manuscripts of high quality. The subject focus of the new publication will be to “review and publish online the results of randomized trials from all medical and public health disciplines.”
Nature offers some quick takes on how the web is influencing scientific communication. There are four stories in the Dec. 1 issue, each of which reports on a different aspect of the ways scientists are using, or not using, the communication tools made available through web technologies. One of the pieces talks about the general failure of researchers to use methods such as blogs and wikis and similar techniques to discuss matters of interest. Well, maybe. But the Grouch has some sympathy for those who might be hesistant. Time is short and perhaps the resisters are simply unwilling to devote much of it to blabbing and gassing, when they could be in the library or at the bench. A lot of this talk about revolutionizing scientific progress through more communication has a familiar ring. We used to hear about the “Invisible College”…the network of researchers using the latest technology (the telephone, the fax machine) to bypass institutional obstacles and share ideas. Email and discussion groups were a more modern version, launched with similar claims. But, maybe more talk is not what’s really needed. The BG always gives high marks to Nature for just caring about and reporting on these issues, when a lot of journals don’t. Take a look at the articles and see what you think.
Science in the web age.
Note: The item on Google SCHOLAR misspells Peter Jacso’s name twice in two lines, and identifies him as an “information scientist”, living in Hawaii. Doubtless. But he is also a card-carrying, unreformed and unreconstructed librarian well known for his “no prisoners” reviews of various overhyped information systems, including, well, Google SCHOLAR.
The American Scientist has long been on the Grouch’s short (very short) list of people or institutions or organizations doing things right. AS publishes book reviews, longish and thoughtful ones, on new books in science. The other journals do some of this, but AS leads the pack in the number of reviews offered. Now, just in time for your holiday book buying pleasure and convenience, AS is running an interview with Dava Sobel, in which she chats about those books which she found most interesting. LibraryLink readers will recall Dava Sobel as the author of the surprise best seller Longitude, a study of the invention of the maritime chronometer by John Harrison. Ms. Sobel also appeared on some TV shows as part of the publisher’s promo campaign, and she showed herself to be personable, elegant, witty and in all a very good advertisment for science journalism. Longitude was followed by other works exploring aspects of scientific history, including a sensitive and affecting exploration of the letters between Galileo and one of his daughters, a nun. Her newest book, The Planets, is an examination of the lore surrounding the five planets of the antique conception of the universe. So, the Grouch was pleased to find the lady willing to speak with AS over the books she has liked best and found some of her suggestions very intriguing.
Readers might also be interested in Mad, Bad and Dangerous: scientists and the cinema. This survey by Christopher Frayling reviews the treatment meted out to scientists by film makers, who stressed one or another aspect of what they imagined scientists to be doing, and this imagination varied greatly with the spirit of the times. Some films, such as Madame Curie, The Story of Louis Pasteur or Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet were little short of hagiographies, with no faults or shortcomings allowed to appear. But, much better box office was to be found in the over ambitious or flat out crazy scientist, in roles which allowed many actors to jettison whatever fear of Hamming it up they may have retained and swing for the bleachers with their ravings and caperings . Fun.