6 Jan 2011


Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is TIME’s Person of the Year 2010.

When one uses the computer everyday, it is easy to take the way of work for granted. The change in the last decade, in fact, is astonishing.

When I was a medical student, people were still searching gigantic directories for reference articles. Just before I graduated, it became possible to do computer search. Even so, the database was not web-based. Instead, the library received a CD ROM containing the information of scientific articles every 3 months. One could only know the latest publications by reading many journals or attending medical conferences. Nowadays, with a click on my keyboard, I can find not only articles published this week but also those that will be published in the coming months. As for medical conferences, I can download the presentation slides, or even watch the video of the presentation online.

In the past, when people submitted papers to journals, they had to make several photocopies of the manuscript and send them by express mail. The famous DNA paper by Watson and Crick in Nature, for example, was prepared by James Watson’s sister with a typewriter under his constant encouragement: “You are participating in perhaps the most famous event in biology since Darwin’s book!” With mails to and fro, the review process usually took several months. You may think this kind of ancient communication must occur before the 1990s. In this you are wrong. My last paper published this way was in 2004.

I still remember vividly the moments when I received reply letters from medical journals. Is my paper accepted? The anticipation and apprehension were no less than those from love letters. Now all we get are e-mail notifications. Certainly time has changed. When young lovers break up nowadays, they just send each other text messages by phone. Worse still, some simply change their status on Facebook. I wonder when we will post scientific papers on Facebook and be evaluated by the number of ‘likes’ from readers.

Maybe we should not complain. Under the current research assessment exercise, academics should submit as many papers as the phone numbers a bachelor gets at dating parties. As such, we should settle with Facebook. Or perhaps Twitter?

No comments:

Post a Comment