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Suggested Citation:"Informal Information Transfer." National Research Council. 1970. The Life Sciences: Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs The World of Biological Research Requirements for the Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9575.
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Page 408
Suggested Citation:"Informal Information Transfer." National Research Council. 1970. The Life Sciences: Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs The World of Biological Research Requirements for the Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9575.
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Page 409
Suggested Citation:"Informal Information Transfer." National Research Council. 1970. The Life Sciences: Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs The World of Biological Research Requirements for the Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9575.
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Page 410

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408 THE ~ ,IFE SCIENCES generally content with broad reviews and secondary information services to guide him within the remaining primary literature. USERS OF BIOLOGICAL INFORMATION Information system designers must found their blueprints on a clear under standing of the needs of their clients. Those who use biological or other types of scientific information can be placed, generally, in one of five categories: 1. The biologist-scholar, an investigator or university teacher who re quires original articles or scholarly reviews and who should have access to such papers almost as soon as they are published. 2. The practitioner, who needs information pertinent to his particular ways of applying biological knowledge. For his purposes, digests of the results of research, rather than all the details of the process, usually suffice; although he needs these data with minimal delay, only in an unusual emer gency does he demand rapid retrieval. 3. The elementary or secondary school teacher, who makes use of con solidated texts and teacher aids and can tolerate considerable delay. 4. The policy-maker or administrator, who requires generalized infor mation about biology, rather than specific biological facts, from concise analyses such as those published in such general-essay magazines as Science, Nature, Endeavour, Scientific American, and the New Scientist. 5. The citizen, who needs information pertinent to major subjects, in cluding conservation, pollution, population, and public health, and for such pragmatic matters as evaluation of advertising claims for new drugs. The citizen, like the teacher and policy-maker, seldom needs biological infor mation urgently, though for him also extremely long delays are undesirable. The requirements of those who write for the citizen in the mass media should be assessed as carefully as those who write for the professional, and a high standard of accuracy in channels of mass communication should be assured. INFORMAL INFORMATION TRANSFER Those who would plan information systems for use by working scientists and practitioners should be aware of the myriad informal channels of information exchange.

COMMUNICATION IN THE LIFE SCIENCES 409 Meetings Biologists gather at meetings of many types and sizes, at which they discuss details of techniques, experiments that failed or should be tried, and hy- potheses far too tenuous for print but nevertheless enormously useful to the working scientist. In addition to providing opportunity for face-to-face conversations, meetings are structured to provide platforms for the presentation of papers often hundreds, sometimes even thousands, at a single scientific con- gress frequently supplemented by discussion from the door. Most scien- tists have hardened their views against publication of the complete proceedings of such meetings, a process that may well take a year or two, during which time complete accounts of the best, most complete papers may be formally published in edited journals. Most of the rest might better be left out of print, and spontaneous comments from the floor seldom merit immortalization. It seems sensible to publish in full only those special symposia at which a few carefully chosen speakers review, as they see it, a delineated research area. For the rest, the best approach is succinct reviews, written promptly by leading participants and published in magazines such as Science. To the investigator in the life sciences, attendance at scientific meetings has become an urgent necessity. These provide opportunities to learn of recent findings, to hear preliminary reports, to listen to summaries by dis- tinguished experts of areas of research in which one is tangentially inter- ested but whose literature there is not sufficient time to follow. Smaller meetings provide the settings for engaging in critical examination of much narrower research areas. Once relatively rare, small specialized meetings are now sponsored by a variety of organizations. When convened early in the history of a newly emerging research area, such meetings have fre- quently given direction for several years afterward to the entire develop- ment of the fields under discussion. Exhibits of new instrumentation by commercial manufacturers have come to be an increasingly important aspect of large scientific meetings, affording the scientist an opportunity to compare the features of competing instruments, to query the instrument engineers and designers, and, fre- quently, to learn of the existence of new instruments. The totality of such meetings constitutes a large enterprise. Of 10,325 research biologists, only 1,096 did not attend a meeting in 1966; 30 percent attended one meeting and half attended two or more (Table 631. International meetings represent a special subset. They offer the scientist all the advantages of domestic meetings and also furnish the relatively rare opportunity to discuss matters of common interest (usually in English, the

410 THE LIFE SCIENCES international scientific "lingua franca"' with otherwise rarely encountered foreign scientists. International meetings produce an additional mean- ingful bonus, the opportunity for the American scientist to serve as a good- will ambassador to the citizens of foreign nations. As shown in Table 63, 16 percent of our respondents attended one such meeting in 1966 and a few attended two or more. One other aspect of the face-to-face communications system warrants mention. Perhaps the most intensive such communications experience is the remarkable program of visiting seminar speakers that has grown up in the last two decades. In large measure supported by the National Institutes of Health training grants program, almost every qualified academic de- partment brings to its seminar program 5, 10, or more visiting speakers annually. Each is invited because of interest in his own contributions, which are presented in detail under relatively in foal circumstances. The entire local community faculty, fellows, and students participates in the ensuing, sometimes merciless, discussion. In turn, during his visit, the seminar speaker has opportunity to learn about recent developments in the laboratories of the host institution and brings this scientific "gossip" back to his colleagues at home. The sum of such activities has become an in- valuable feature of current scientific life and is as vigorous in many federal and industrial laboratories as in academic departments. Accordingly, it is urged that all orgaruzations that support research remain sympathetic to reasonable requests for funds in support of travel that permits the applicant both to pursue his own research more effectively and to communicate its results to others. TABLE 63 Life Scientists Attending Meetings in 1966 DOMESTIC MEETINGS No. % FOREIGN MEETINGS No. To TOTAL RESPONDENTS 10,324 100 10,324 100 Meetings Attended per Man 0 1,096 118,330 80 1 3,062 301,63 1 16 2 3,082 30279 3 3 1,647 1659 0.5 4 or more 1,437 1425 0.2 Source: Survey of Individual Life Scientists, National Academy of Sciences Committee on Research in the Life Sciences.

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