- The Internet Revolution in the Sciences and Humanities by Alan G. Gross and Joseph E. Harmon
New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xx, 248. Paper: isbn-13 978-0-19-046593-3, us$26.95. Cloth: isbn-13 978-0-19-046592-6, us$105.00. eBook: isbn-13 978-0-19-046594-0, us$25.99.
The Internet Revolution in the Sciences and the Humanities is the latest of many books co-authored by Alan Gross and Joseph Harmon, whose previous collaborations have concerned written communication in science. In this collaboration the authors enlarge their field of view to encompass the sciences and the humanities in a study of how researchers in these domains, over the two decades since the advent of the World Wide Web, have taken advantage of Internet technologies to revolutionize their conduct, communication, and evaluation of research.
To frame their comparative study, the authors invoke the 'two cultures' of C. P. Snow, a Cambridge scientist who, originally in a 1959 lecture, lamented the epistemic gulf that divides the sciences from the humanities and disables cross-cultural understanding between them. This cultural divide continues today in an unequal uptake by scientists and humanists of Internet technologies that enhance their research output, with multidirectional navigation tools, layered organization, hyperlinked references, and a marshaling of multimedia evidence. On this front of innovation, the sciences lead while the humanities lag. [End Page 277]
'The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed yet.' A quotation from science fiction writer William Gibson is the epigraph that opens the short introductory video on the publisher's website companion to the print book. The uneven distribution of digital affordances in humanistic and scientific research online is what the authors hope to ameliorate with their book. While the two cultures will never, nor should ever, coalesce into one intellectual enterprise, the authors contend that 'the humanities can learn from the sciences how better to exploit the Internet in the interest of advancing their own kind of knowledge' (2).
Over the course of seven chapters, Gross and Harmon take readers on a guided tour of online research that exploits the possibilities of Internet technologies that are beyond the capacity of print. In chapters 2 and 3 the authors explore digitally enhanced articles in the sciences and digitally native essays and projects in the humanities. In chapter 4 the authors tour a selection of online archives and databases designed to aggregate and organize existing knowledge and to promote new knowledge through recombination and discovery. Next, the authors examine experiments in open peer review conducted before (chapter 5) and after (chapter 6) publication in the sciences and the humanities. As an illustrative supplement to this guided tour, the companion website demonstrates, by way of short screenshot videos, the Internet features that do not reproduce functionally on the printed page. The authors' purpose in these six chapters is not to propose a specific or systematic method for bringing more research, and its supporting processes, online in technological inventive ways;1 their aim is to inspire readers to new applications by showcasing and analysing an array of Internet implementations.
Finally, in chapter 7, the authors identify five obstacles that stand in the way of greater Internet exploitation in humanistic and scientific research. These obstacles are 1) publisher pay walls; 2) tenure requirements that devalue digital publication; 3) 'bit rot' that renders older technologies obsolete; 4) copyright and patent restrictions that cordon off intellectual property from public use; and 5) classification of government documents that erect barriers for historians of the near past. According to Gross and Harmon, the locus of change with the greatest potential to alter the laws, policies, and practices that stand behind these 'five obstacles to Internet exploitation is the research university' (106).
In light of C. P. Snow's characterization of two cultures, which is the organizing principle for the first six chapters, the authors seek to understand the differential uptake of the Internet as a means and medium of [End Page 278] research in the sciences and humanities. Why does...