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close this bookExpanding Access to Science and Technology (UNU, 1994, 462 pages)
close this folderSession 3: New technologies and media for information retrieval and transfer
close this folderInformation retrieval: Theory, experiment, and operational systems
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentAbstract
View the document1. Scientific communication and information retrieval
View the document2. Anomalous states of knowledge
View the document3. Relevance
View the document4. Early experiments in IR
View the document5. Language
View the document6. Boolean logic, search strategy, and intermediaries
View the document7. Associative methods
View the document8. Probabilistic models
View the document9. Information-seeking behaviour
View the document10. Intelligence
View the documentReferences

1. Scientific communication and information retrieval

It is a commonplace that science depends on communication. Science is a social activity; scientists' ideas, models, and results have to be scrutinized by their peers, analysed and tested with the possibility of validation or refutation as well as the construction of further science.

In order to investigate the role of information retrieval and the effect of developing technologies on scientific communication, we may start from a simplified view of the process of scientific communication (see chart p. 145).

Such a diagram is deceptive both in its simplicity and in its circularity. As a publishing scientist, I am clearly not communicating with myself! My potential audience will be not only other scientists (who may indeed feed new publications into the process), but also other users of scientific information, e.g. those who apply the knowledge. The diagram also suggests a system with just one communication channel, and furthermore seems to imply a system that always works! Neither is in general the case.

The process of scientific communication

We in the information world tend to work with systems (fragments or subsystems of this larger process) that are supposed to contribute to the whole by providing certain linking mechanisms. By and large we work with relatively formal mechanisms (publication, libraries, databases, etc.); we like to think that they are vital to the whole. However, we also know that scientists rely extensively on less formal mechanisms (personal contacts, meetings, etc.). Furthermore, from the scientist's-eye view, there are many sources/channels of information that may be selected or rejected at different times, for all sorts of reasons. One of our concerns in developing a science of information must be the scientist's perception of the information environment, and the selection and use made of sources, channels, and modes of both obtaining information and communicating ideas.

The concern in the present paper is mainly with formal mechanisms for the storage and retrieval of information, in response to queries or requests. But the wider aspects of the communication process will be kept in view. I start with a perspective on the situation that gives rise to the request; at the end, I will return to some features of human information-seeking behaviour.