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Book Review   |    
Communicating Research
Mark S. Salzer, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 2000; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.51.4.539
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by A. J. Meadows; San Diego, Academic Press, 1998, 266 pages, $59.95

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My first impression of this book, based strictly on the title, was that it would fall in the realm of texts devoted to writing more efficiently and effectively. However, while finding nothing even faintly related to improving research writing or other forms of communication, I was not disappointed. Jack Meadows, professor of information and library studies at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England, offers a surprisingly thought-provoking journey into the fascinating world of information science.

Communicating Research consists of six chapters. The first chapter provides an overview of the history of scientific communication and describes the dramatic growth in scientific knowledge that has occurred over the past few decades. The central theme of the book is conveyed in the second chapter, in which Meadows discusses the expansion of scientific fields and disciplines and introduces the reader to differences in how disciplines disseminate information and how scientific knowledge is accessed. The remaining chapters examine different aspects of how scientific information is communicated and accessed, comparing the communication practices of various fields and disciplines to exemplify the points.

For example, a chapter section that considers the level of cooperation within disciplines indicates that 20 percent of biochemistry articles are written by one person, compared with 45 percent of articles in psychology and 75 percent in sociology. There is also a fascinating discussion about who does research, including why people enter graduate school, the characteristics of people choosing different disciplines, the perceived benefits of academia versus industry (for example, the freedom to publish and to choose projects versus better equipment and salary), and the differences in the number of articles published by researchers in various fields. Meadows also presents data supporting the distinction between research-oriented and non-research-oriented universities based on faculty publication rates and discounting the notion that tenure is associated with a reduction in publications.

Other sections examine how much time researchers spend writing and how long it takes for articles to be published. An absorbing discussion of the review process includes the criteria reviewers use to evaluate manuscripts, major problems found with manuscripts, rejection rates for leading journals in different fields, and potential areas for bias in the review process.

The final chapter discusses how research is accessed. Some interesting tidbits of information include the distribution of articles read by the year the research was published (65 percent of articles read are published in the past year) and the "half-lives" of articles cited in various fields (the half-life in physics is 4.6 years, compared with 10.5 years in mathematics).

This scholarly discussion of how science is communicated is unique. Moreover, Meadows does a superb job of expressing the information in a straightforward, accessible manner that would be appreciated by a broad audience of researchers and research consumers at any level of training and experience. Although not essential reading, Communicating Research offers an engaging and refreshing perspective on the research communication process that is worth attention.

Dr. Salzer is research assistant professor in the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.




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