Letter: Excluded from web

August 3, 2001

The proliferation of web-based research-awareness services is certainly welcomed by busy academics struggling to keep up to date in their research fields ("Stay up to date the (e)asy way", THES , June 29).

But what if academics become reliant on such services? My field is physical geography. Over the past 150 years earth sciences have developed mainly through scientific papers published in the journals of learned societies.

These include national, regional, county and local natural history, geological, geographical and archeological societies and clubs, where traditionally professional and amateur scientists have mingled. These have publicised science and acted as breeding grounds for young scientists.

Journals of national societies, such as the Journal of the Geological Society, have remained mainstream and their contents pages are routinely included in web-based databases, such as Zetoc from the British Library.

But sub-national societies and clubs fare less well. Of the five sub-national journals I have published in the past ten years, only one is included in the Zetoc database.

If web research rises and this exclusion continues, it could mean the dumbing-down or, worse still, the end of sub-national journals.

Given research assessment exercise pressure, academics are unlikely to continue publishing, editing or reviewing articles in journals when there is little chance of their peers becoming aware of their efforts. There will be no citations or recognition and the quality of amateur research is likely to decline if the professional influence is lost.

This could lead to the establishment of a scientific underclass, which would then, ironically, be a good reason to exclude these journals from research awareness services.

Simon Haslett
School of Geography and Development Studies
Bath Spa University College

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