Introduction to our project

The project Communication in Physics is aimed at finding a more efficient and effective way of exchanging scientific information. The flow of scientific information is now congested by the so called `information infarct'. We intend to improve scientific communication by making full use of modern computer and networking techniques, which offer suitable tools for the transfer of scientific information.

We realize that technological progress will not automatically solve the problem of the information infarct. The correct tools must be applied in the right way on the appropriate aspect of the problem. In order to determine if and how electronic publishing is the optimal way of conveying scientific information, we first have to examine the information itself and the process of its generation, transmission and usage.

This project is part of a broad research programme instigated by the Physica Foundation. Here at the University of Amsterdam, we specifically study the structure and content of published scientific articles. We analyze the output of a well-established research programme in experimental physics, addressing the following questions: what types of information are relevant in scientific research, how is the information structured and what is the best way to represent the information? The analysis is undertaken both by a physicist studying the physical contents of the articles and by a linguist, who studies the textual structure and the argumentation used in the article.

The main goal of our project is to create a model for a new type of article, which is better suited for the publication of scientific information than the current essay-type articles: a modular article. Our premise is that the information can be represented more effectively in a structured collection of modules. Both the internal cohesion of the research report and the relation of the information to specific previously published work are expressed explicitly in this structure.

In our research, we are concerned with the characterization and the modularisation of scientific information. This characterization is based on the bibliographic data, the scientific content, the function and the scope of the information. The basic idea is that the information, thus characterized, is presented in conceptual units and linked to related information in the same or another article. Then both the scientist who seeks specific information and the "browser" should be able to retrieve it more easily. The modules can be read as self-contained units, but can also be read as chapters of the article. The possibility still remains to read the article in a sequence closely resembling the "traditional" essay.

Not only the reader should gain from our scenario, but other parties involved in scientific communication as well. Our model for modular electronic publication will provide a "schema" guiding authors and referees. Another advantage to the author is, that repetition can be avoided in a modular electronic journal. Instead of copying or rewriting in each article for example the same introductory remarks, he can simply include a link to the existing module in which the context of the research has already been adequately described. Practically speaking, we will establish the requirements for scientifically sound publication of articles in an electronic environment, which leads to an improvement of communication, both from the point of view of the producer and from the point of view of the consumer of scientific information.

More details on this project can be found in our papers.




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