worthwhile pausing to consider that technological proposals for
improving the dissemination of scientific knowledge have been
suggested for some sixty years. Immediately prior to the Second World
War, the novelist and scholar H.G Wells proposed a microfilm-based
index to all human thought and knowledge6.
The experience of co-ordinating thousands of American scientists
during that war led Vannevar Bush to propose a similar system
complete with what we would now call "hypertext links" 7.
However, it was not only the technical advance provided by the
printing press in the late 15th century, but also the emergence of a
reliable postal system and the development of the experimental method
in the 16th century that led to the production of the first
Scientific Journal in 1665 8.
Similarly, it may not be simply the technical ability to reproduce
and distribute articles electronically (e-publishing), but
also the emergence of highly collaborative, large-scale
investigations and analyses (e-science) that is likely to lead
to significant change in the field of scientific communication and
significant changes in the way such communications are produced,
curated and disseminated 9.
A simple example that
exemplifies the need to improve the dissemination systems is the
common, but very frustrating experience, of finding a paper
containing your desired data, but to find that it is in a figure with
no access to the actual numbers; needing to measure the plot or using
a scanner and optical character recognition (OCR) is not ideal. Even
if the paper is available as a PDF the problems are not much simpler.
In a few cases the numeric data may be provided separately and
sometimes, but rarely with a direct link to a database or other
similar service. In many cases if the information required is not of
the standard type anticipated by the author, then the only way to
request the information is to contact the author and hope they can
still provide this in a computer readable form.