Monday, October 11, 2010
That's the implication raised by this article by U. Chicago Sociology Professor James A. Evans entitled "Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship" published in the July 18, 2008 edition of Science Magazine. The suggestion is that as Westlaw and Lexis move towards a more Google-like approach to legal research, search queries will tend to turn-up the most current and popular cases while the kind of serendipitous results that occur during book research, and which often lead to novel theories that can win the case, are completely overlooked.
From the abstract:
Online journals promise to serve more information to more dispersed audiences and are more efficiently searched and recalled. But because they are used differently than print—scientists and scholars tend to search electronically and follow hyperlinks rather than browse or peruse—electronically available journals may portend an ironic change for science. Using a database of 34 million articles, their citations (1945 to 2005), and online availability (1998 to 2005), I show that as more journal issues came online, the articles referenced tended to be more recent, fewer journals and articles were cited, and more of those citations were to fewer journals and articles. The forced browsing of print archives may have stretched scientists and scholars to anchor findings deeply into past and present scholarship. Searching online is more efficient and following hyperlinks quickly puts researchers in touch with prevailing opinion, but this may accelerate consensus and narrow the range of findings and ideas built upon.
The full article is available here for download.