Vitality

The use of the Internet to support scientiŽc communication is one of the major shifts in the practice of science in this era. It has generated numerous experiments and signiŽ cant discussion. In the scientiŽ c communities these communications include informal e-mail, the communication of conference programs as they shape a concise outcome, the sharing of preprints, access to electronic versions of journal articles, and the development of shared disciplinary corpuses.

These communicative practices are becoming more important in many Ž elds, although they are rarely the central communications media. However, only a few analyses take sufŽ cient account of the ways in which the social dimensions of publications, such as the design of electronic journals, in uence their use. One common approach to conceptualizing new media forms such as electronic journals, on-line newspapers, electronic forums, Web sites, and digital libraries emphasizes their information-processing features.

This enables authors and readers to communicate more directly without the mediation of libraries or expensive publishers. The socio-technical approach explained below views these new forms as mixing together technological elements and social relationships into an effectively inseparable ensemble. From a technological information processing perspective, new media such as electronic journals, databases, preprint servers are said to reduce the costs of communication, expand the range of people and locations from which materials are accessible, and generally speed communications.

According to this view, as scholars in all scientiŽ c Ž elds work with data, and communicate both formally and informally with other scholars, all of these electronic media forums should be adopted and used fairly uniformly. Differences in value would rest upon the differences in technical architectures. For example, readers would be more likely to read electronic journal A, rather than journal B, if journal A added more informational value. An elaborate set of cross-links between articles, or including more extensive sets of data and graphics would entice readers to journal A.

Even the strongest proponents of electronic journals agree that technological design alone is not sufŽ cient to insure a good quality journal. There is a strong consensus that the quality of a journal’s scholarly content is important in making it viable, but there is substantial disagreement about the means of attracting high-quality materials. All the proposals and counter-proposals for attracting high-quality authors rest on social analyses of a journal, rather than purely technological analyses.

For example, one aspect of electronic journals commonly discussed is the role of peer review. There are many ways of organizing peer reviews, but each strategy for selecting reviewers and translating their assessments into feedback for authors and publication criteria for the journal is a social process. These social processes are supported by communication media; electronic media may facilitate or inhibit speciŽ c ways of organizing reviewers, reviewing and editing.