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 Published by the American Geological Institute
January 2001
Newsmagazine of the Earth Sciences

From the Editor

In the past decade, electronic communication changed the way scientists do business. Beginning with e-mail and continuing with the creation of the Web, scientists are busily exploring the possibilities, strengths and weaknesses of electronic communication. Quite simply, electronic communication has created possibilities that didnít exist ten years ago.
This change is at the heart of the feature articles in this issue of Geotimes. Judy Holoviak of the American Geophysical Union discusses the impact of electronic communication on scientific publishing. With electronic journals, scientists can disseminate their research faster and easier. E-journals let authors include data, color figures and other information expensive to print, and they allow the use of other media, such as video, that isnít possible with hard copy. Even so, electronic journals havenít been well received in the earth sciences ó partly because of concerns about their acceptability for university promotion and tenure and partly because of concerns about archiving. Will this information be available, in a form we can get to, 100 years from now?
Tim Carr of the Kansas Geological Survey discusses the effect of electronics on doing research. Computers and the Internet allow scientists to compile, analyze and exchange mountains of data in ways not possible before. Tim points out that the Internet also lets researchers collaborate in new ways, and enables them to cut across disciplines. One additional, perhaps unintended consequence of this change is that far more data is now available to the public. This change affects everybody, especially educators.
And the implication of electronic communication for educators is the topic of John Butlerís article. John was quick to use e-mail to communicate with his students at the University of Houston. That action dramatically altered the way he and his students interact, affecting the way students learn and, perhaps, what they learn. Today, distance learning ó or taking entire courses over the Internet ó is a major topic on college campuses, raising questions about the ownership of course material, the effectiveness of virtual field trips, and the role of face-to-face interaction between teachers and students.
The impact of these moves into electronic communication are enormous. Libraries offer an example. The research behavior of my 15-year-old son constantly reminds me of one thing: if it ainít digital, it ainít. Libraries have to offer electronic journals and databases, and must find ways of digitizing photographs, manuscripts, maps and other records so that researchers no longer have to travel to the library to use them. At the same time, librarians have to continue to acquire, catalogue, store and loan much of the hard-copy information theyíve traditionally handled.
None of us know where all this is headed. But one thing is certain: You can either decry the change or harness the possibilities. These articles provide state-of-the-art glimpses into how some people are harnessing the possibilities. In his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn made the word ďparadigmĒ part of the common parlance. Just about everybody began to see scientific revolutions, or paradigm shifts, almost everywhere. Maybe itís an overstatement to say that weíre in the midst of a scientific communication revolution. But itís clear, even now, that weíre smack dab in the middle of something big.

Rex Buchanan
Geotimes Guest Editor
Associate Director, Kansas Geological Survey

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