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Next: Stage I: Creating Up: Scientific communication via articles Previous: Scientific communication via articles

  
2.1.1 A model of the process of communication via scientific articles

In this thesis, we concentrate on the structure of scientific articles. For that purpose, we have to distinguish in our analysis between the organisation of the information and the actual phrasing used to present the information in the article. In addition, we have to separate the organisation of the article from the organisation of the communication process, which for instance involves the question of how peer review is organised. In this endeavour, we also have to separate between, on the one hand, conceptual issues pertaining to the organisation of the information and the communication process, and, on the other hand, the technical issues of the implementation of the article and the communication system. These different aspects are taken into account in the model of the process of scientific communication via articles that we give in this section.

Here, we first clarify how we use the terms `information' and `communication' in this thesis, because in the literature these terms are used in different ways.   By communication we mean the transfer of information from a human sender to a human receiver, for the purpose of increasing the receiver's knowledge, enabling him to carry out tasks, or influencing his attitudes and behaviour. If the receiver also acts as a sender, the one-way transfer of information becomes a two-way exchange of information between human interactants. Depending on the type of communication, the senders and receivers are the speaker and listener in oral communication, or the writer and reader in the case of written communication.

  By information we mean a conceptual representation of aspects of a `universe'2.1 for the purpose of communication. Because information is a conceptual representation, it cannot be directly communicated to others: it first has to be represented in a message that can be encoded and transmitted.2.2 Thus, communication entails at least three `representation levels':

1.
Conceptual level: information. Information is a conceptual representation of particular aspects of the universe.

2.
Symbolic level: message. The message is a symbolic representation of the conceptual representation of an aspect of the universe. It can be formulated textually, in mathematical or chemical formulae, in pictures, or in any other `language'.2.3

3.
Technical level: signal. The message is encoded (in different stages) in a physical or electronic signal that can be transmitted.
In a universe, separate entities can be distinguished, as well as relations between these entities. The same `granularity' can be seen at the conceptual level: the information about these entities forms related information units. For example, information about the results of a particular type of measurement on different specimens can be divided into different information units. The complete set of rules for the performance of a particular task also form an information unit. We need such a notion of a `quantity of information' to be able to develop an adequate structure for the representation of scientific information. If information can be considered as a network of units, we should structure a scientific article (in which the scientific information is represented) as a network of modules, each representing a unit. The question as to what can constitute an information unit, however, can only be answered in the context that determines what is similar information about similar subjects. We shall return to this question in sections 3.1.1 and 3.2.

The notion of information we use allows us to follow an information unit through the communication process, from the sender to different types of receivers. In this process, the amount and the nature of information conveyed is considered fixed, regardless of the question as to whether a particular receiver already is aware of the information or whether the signal is intact when it reaches him.2.4

Our notion of communication is based on sending and receiving. In this respect, it fits with most models for communication, according to the International Encyclopaedia of Communications [Barnouw et al., 1989]:

Most communication models employ a small number of basic concepts: a sender; a process of encoding into signals or symbols; a message; a channel; a receiver; a relationship; a process of decoding; a range of things to which the messages refer (`referents'); and an actual or probable effect, intended or not. Some models incorporate a feedback link from receiver to sender.
The communication models of this type are based on the mathematical theory of communication developed in [Shannon and Weaver, 1949]: a sender encodes a message in a signal that is transmitted through a channel and then decoded by a receiver.2.5 Shannon and Weaver developed their model to describe telephone conversation from an engineer's point of view. They were not concerned with either the meaning of the message or the reason for its transmission. Unlike Shannon and Weaver, we do take these aspects into account. For that purpose, we add steps to their model of the communication process. We describe the meaning of the message as the information represented in it. The reason for transmission is then taken into account in the goals of the sender and the receiver and thereby in their criteria for the adequacy of the communication.

 We visualise communication between senders (authors in particular) and receivers (readers) as follows: packages containing information are transmitted to a receiver via a communication conduit (e.g. a telephone line, or a regular mail service). The communication, however, involves more than the transmission of packages through the conduit. Analytically, we distinguish four main stages. In the first stage, the sender creates the information package. Then, a connection has to be established with the receiver and the package has to be transmitted. This involves two stages: in the second stage, the dissemination, the package is made available to the receiver, and in the third main stage the receiver acquires it. The fourth stage is the assimilation, in which the receiver unwraps the package, consumes the information.

For the process of communication via scientific publications, these four main stages can be further refined into an idealised sequence of seventeen different activities. We emphasise that this is an analytical model of the communication process; in practice, the activities may be performed in a different order or simultaneously, or they may be repeated, guided by feedback, until the result is satisfactory. In the following, we examine the model in more detail.2.6

[To the full figure] Figure 2.1: A model for the process of scientific communication via articles is sketched. The main stages are: creating, disseminating, acquiring and assimilating. The arrows indicate the idealised sequence in which the steps are taken. There are several possible short cuts in the process. Usually articles reach the receiver by way of an archive (a traditional or digital library), but they might also be delivered personally to a particular set of receivers, jumping from step (9) to (13). In communication by way of preprint archives, rather than publication in scientific journal, the document is not explicitly subjected to quality control: steps (6) and (8) are skipped in that case. The author can also give the preprint personally to particular receivers, cutting from (4) immediately to (13)


 
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