Cataloguing Scientific Papers

Abstract

THE recent circular issued by the Royal Society anent the indexing of scientific literature affords me a pretext for suggesting in your columns a reform which I have long thought to be urgently required. It is that henceforward all scientific publications should be issued in only one volume per annum—in parts, if necessary, but consecutively paged and with only one index—and that this volume should be primarily referred to by the year of its publication, not by its number since the first issue of the publication. Two advantages would accrue from this system. In the first place, the date of all quoted work would be fixed; in the second place, the finding of the abstracts of papers published elsewhere, printed in the journals of scientific societies, would be rendered more easy. A little reflection will show that these benefits are not trivial. For example, suppose an author refers to a paper by Smith published in NATURE, vol. xi. I have not (may I be pardoned for saying so!) the slightest idea when NATURE was first issued, nor do I remember whether one or two volumes of this periodical appear per annum. I am therefore totally in the dark as to whether Smith's work is one year old or twenty years old, and consequently I am ignorant whether he is likely to have used the most modern appliances in his research, and whether he is likely to have been contradicted by subsequent observers. Again, I am referred by an author to a paper by Schmidt, in the Berichte of the German Chemical Society, vol. xx. Not possessing this journal, I hope to be able to find an abstract of the paper in question in the Journal of the Chemical Society, to which I subscribe; but as I have no notion in what year vol. xx. of this Berichte was published, I have to search through numerous indexes in order to find the abstract. A search for previously published work is already sufficiently difficult to cause many to shrink from the task; ten years hence it may be expected to be the most laborious and thankless work which the investigator has to perform.

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