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Christina's LIS Rant
Monday, February 06, 2006
  Pity the Scientist Who Discovers the Discovered - New York Times
Here's the link if you have PQ full text online.

Article by Gina Kolata, New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Feb 5, 2006. pg. 4.4. Pointed to by Alan on CHMINF-L.

Pity? No. Frustration? Yes.

I just love this part"
It may seem odd that scientists in the Internet age spend years on a line of research, even bet their careers on it, without having first determined that their mountain had not already been climbed. But Dr. Stigler said that scientists often are ignorant of the work being done by others in their field, and searches of scientific literature can be hard to conduct. Web search engines, for example, look for words, not ideas, and Dr. Vohra said he discovered that every researcher who had made his discovery had given it a different name and description.
Yeah, hm. Wouldn't it help if someone invented a system to control the vocabulary so topically similar articles could be retrieved? Oh, right! They're called thesauri and classification codes and all of the databases I use have them. Nice.

Update: 2/7/06
I would like to respond to the super patron. With all respect (and I have a *ton* of respect for the super patron-- in fact it borders on love but anyway), please don't assume all controlled vocabularies are like library of congress subject headings! We all love to beat up on LCSH and it totally deserves it. A few key reasons: headings do not correspond to the artifacts they describe, the language used is not the common language/usage of the people using the system, it has failed to keep up with the world. LCSH really don't work in public libraries, but nobody's got the money to do something different. ON THE OTHER HAND -- MeSH headings are awesome, are frequently updated, have lots of cross references, and use terms that specialists in the field agree are appropriate for the use. Likewise, the PACS codes, the CA terms, the EI terms, .... maybe not as much so as the MeSH but. Also, and more importantly, you do not need to know or keep up with this. You just need to know when it's time to call for help. Librarians love this stuff, all you have to do is give one of us a call and we'll help.

And another thing (copied from my comments to CHMINF-L). Reading Derek J. deSolla Price this morning over my cereal (life of a grad student), he (in the early 1980s) basically said that there will always be this duplication and it will be blamed on publishers, editors, and librarians, but that it will have more to do with the fact that scientists prefer claiming to reading and that they can't read all of the relevant work in the field due to the volume. We all like to grumble that they need to use libraries more (and they do!) but perhaps some of this is to be expected because even if we find the previous work, we can't do the publicizing of it or the application of it.

I can't find it now in the time I've got, but somewhere he quotes a famous scientist saying something like ... When I discovered it, it stayed discovered.

Price, Derek J.de Solla. (1986). Little science, big science-- and beyond. New York: Columbia University Press.
 
Comments:
Controlled vocabularies only go so far. Different groups of people use language for different reasons, drawing from analogy to physical items that aren't always shared. Even within a field it's easy to reinvent and rename stuff.

Don't get me started on how hard it can be to find things if there's a controlled vocabulary for search and it's not your native vocabulary - I just challenge you to compare a search for 'cookery' vs. 'cookbook' in your favorite public library online catalog to see the results.
 
Just wanted to second your update on the goodness of controlled vocabulary that is MeSH. I've only dabbled in tje MeSH, but they rock.

Also, it was a pleasure to run across a reference to Derek J. de Solla Price--I did an archival internship at the Adler Planetarium's History of Astronomy library last year, and our project was to write a finding aid for a bunch of his papers that he'd left to them. Smart guy.
 
Good luck, your life seems interesting!

Peace and Love!

Dominic Ebacher
ebacherdom.blogspot.com
 
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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