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Christina's LIS Rant
Monday, March 02, 2009
  Comps reading - Little Science, Big Science... and Beyond
This one deserves its own post.

This is one of the books from a father of scientometrics and a great in the early days of STS. This re-issue of the book has a forward by Eugene Garfield and Robert K. Merton which tells you something!

Price, D.J.d. (1986). Little science, big scienceā€¦and beyond. New York: Columbia University Press.
(I never knew how to refer to this author - some refer to him as de Solla Price and others as Price - Garfield makes a joke about this in his piece at the end, it's Price)
This book is a lot about modeling the shape, size, distribution of science. How many scientists should a country have and how many should be in the top most productive group? How many scientists are cited every year and how many have a single paper and then never again? More authors/co-authors mean more papers, are correlated with bigger grants. What does the distribution of citations look like (why can you cover 75% of the cited articles with only 7% of the articles written)? Will science continue to grow exponentially or more of a logistic curve where it flattens off?

Some of this stuff is pretty cool and timeless, but some of it makes me uncomfortable. It's cool to use some of these guesstimate approximations based on years of ISI's data, but it says nothing about individuals or disciplines or any individual attributes (which he freely admits).

One essay that's less frequently discussed, is the nice one on Sealing Wax and String - about the importance of technology to science and how sometimes technology leads science instead of lagging. Also about the importance of experimentalists and technicians who are sometimes completely omitted in romantic discussions of scientific inventions and emphasis on the scientific method (sometimes, holy cow-how did that happen- better come up with an explanation- instead of theory, hypothesis, experiment, rinse, repeat)

Useful quotes:
In chapter 7, Measuring the size of science, he makes the case for scientometrics - an econometric-type view of science. Likewise he makes the case for not leaving the study of science up to the scientists:
It is the business of sociologists to be knowledgeable about things that are important to society, and it is not necessarily the business, nor does it even lie within the competence, of natural scientists to turn the tools of their trade upon themselves or to act as their own guinea pigs (p. 136)

This is interesting, though, because Price was a reformed physicist (as was Kuhn) who got a second phd in history.

from chapter 8
Technical librarianship involves much more than librarianship applied to books with an esoteric vocabulary and much mathematics. It is somewhat like the dilemma of the man who tried to write a book on Chinese medicine by first reading one on China and then another on medicine and then "combining his knowledge"
(but this statement doesn't really have much to do with the remainder of the chapter which provides an overview of citation patterns - from chapter 5 ephemeral vs. classic references, immediacy, research fronts, aging of the literature, etc.) There is some number of references per paper, too many above this you are looking at a review paper and too many below this, you're looking at an ex cathedra pronouncement. Another main point is that you can tell the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences apart by the percentage of citations to articles younger than 5 years. Natural sciences might be as high as 75% where things like history of the civil war might be like 8%.

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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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Christina Kirk Pikas

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