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Making sense of physics information

Graphic showing a connected world

(Courtesy: iStockphoto)

By James Dacey

Physicists today are faced with a multitude of options when it comes to accessing and sharing information with each other. Research collaborations are becoming increasingly international, bringing both opportunities and challenges with communication. There are ever-growing numbers of ways of accessing journal papers. And it seems that every other day sees the arrival of some shiny new social-media site for sharing and discussing the latest developments.

IOP Publishing (which publishes physicsworld.com) has teamed up with the Research Information Network (RIN) to try to improve our understanding of how information practices are changing in the physical sciences. You can help shape that understanding by taking our short survey. If you need a little sweetener, you will also be given the chance to enter a prize draw where you can win a $500 bursary to attend the academic conference of your choice. All in, the survey should take you about 10–15 minutes.

I caught up with Ellen Collins, a social researcher at RIN, to find out a bit more about what the project is designed to achieve.


JD: Why are you doing this study?

EC: It’s become something of a truism to say that scholarly communication is in a state of flux. There’s been a lot of research, writing and low-level panic among publishers and others as they try to understand their changing business. The digital environment has brought all kinds of new possibilities, for generating, sharing and finding information. Not everybody is sure how best to respond.

JD: Who is RIN?

EC: RIN is a small independent research consultancy working on scholarly communications. We partner with publishers, research funders and universities to understand how scholars’ information needs are changing.

JD: What type of survey is this?

EC: A lot of studies begin from the publisher’s point of view. They ask the researcher: what do you think about open access? Do you prefer to read in print or online? Which publisher services do you value most? Where do you discover the articles that you read?

The information these studies provide is useful, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t engage with the broader context that researchers inhabit. Understanding this is a really important part of a publisher’s job, if they are to stay relevant to the community that underpins their business.

JD: What types of information are you hoping to get from the survey?

EC: Of course, we want to know about how you find and share information. But we also want to understand a bit about your wider work environment – for example, how you collaborate, or what kinds of data you usually produce.

JD: What do you plan to do with the information?

EC: We’ll be sharing the findings publicly for anyone to use, and we hope they’ll improve understanding of how physicists work. There will be a publicly available report in the spring of this year.

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