Scott T. Meissner
smeissne at PRAIRIENET.ORG
Sat Feb 22 11:49:27 EST 1997
Dr. Koning and I seem to have a few differences
of opinion on the appropriate use of the internet.
I appreciate his sharing his thoughts on this subject.
My impression that we basically agree on the
value of the internet for making connections and
its likely importance IN THE FUTURE. But that we
disagree somewhat on how quickly will be its rise
to prominance and to a position where it is equal with
the printed journals.
I see the internet as a new type of
telephone system. Part of its strength is its
shifting vital nature. It is able to respond to
issues and challenges very quickly. It also,
unfortunately, pulls in every opinion no matter how
irrelavent or informed. You have only to view the
e-mail messages on plant-ed to find evidence of this.
Plant-ed is a fairly narrowed focused group, with some
very valuable discussions (like this thread) but there
are always large percentages of "do you want
money" or "do I need to water
this plant?" sort of messages. Other regions of the
net are even worse.
Part of the purpose for adopting the peer
reviewed published literature as the standard for
references in our field, in my view, is to attempt
to filter out lots of the noise and poor quality
thinking. For all its faults, the peer review
system does improve the literature's quality. The
internet does not have peer review as its standard.
At the moment it seems to be peer review by the
masses, this only worsens the "signal to noise ratio"
in my view.
The internet can make for discussions at one level
that are more accessible and perhaps more relevant to persons
who do not have the technical background or are not
prepared, or do not want, to deal with the published
literature. But is that the standard we should be
setting for our students? In some cases perhaps, but
for biology majors I think a higher standard than a
"village green" discussion is an appropriate
Further, if students are told that they can
cite web sources, when will they ever stand up from
their terminals and use the published journals?
Also, as I have pointed out, I have yet to find any
instructions to authors that includes information on
how to cite a web source. It is just not acceptable
TODAY (I agree that this is likely to change) for
students to cite web sources any more than it is
appropriate for them to write a paper in which all
their information is from telephone discussions. The
standards of publication are higher than this, and
i want to be preparing my students for that standard.
The internet assignments I give my students
always lead back to the published literature. A source
that is referrable, citable, and verifiable. I do this
not because I check that they have spelled every author's
name correctly (though I insist on having this option
available to me) but because this is what the current
standard is in our field. And so that I can have a tool
to help me better guide and evaluate their learning.
I do not wish to imply that it is wrong for
students to use the internet to collect information.
Nor do I want to suggest that there are not valuable
exercises students could do using the internet. Far
from it, it is a valuable bridge between a question and
an answer. And, of course, I agree that other professors
might have differing views on what should be citable.
I see this as a healthy diversity of views and
approaches, part of what makes higher education strong.
But until the scientific societies, and their editors,
come to a consensus on this topic and tell me what
sort of web sites can be used as citations in research
articles I am not willing to accept these sources in the
place of peer reviewed published articles that are
In order for the concensus to shift it will take
detailed discussions by the scientific societies on
issues of copyrights, access, funding, oversight, and many
other issues. Some of these are very complex, and while
I expect that they will all be sorted out in time, but
this process may take
a decade or more.
So while I totally agree with Dr. Koning that
students should learn to use the internet, and how to
access information on web pages, I respectfully
disagree with him on using web pages as citable
sources. That may come in the future.
( Sorry Ross, [:) Viva la difference! )
Scott T. Meissner, Division of Science and Mathematics
McKendree College, 701 College Rd, Lebanon, IL 62254
Tel: (618) 537-6934
E-mail: smeissne at a1.mckendree.edu
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