The Enemy of Progress

For those who publish printed magazines, the longstanding issue is how deeply to reproduce the printed works online. This battle rages all over, all the time (witness the recent decision by the Wall Street Journal to renege on making its online pages subscription-free).

Because digital publishing is most certainly less expensive than print to produce, generally, the argument boils down to which medium garners the most readers (highly debatable, and tied to certain demographics such as age and background), and whether those readers are actually the same (not likely).

The most recent issue of Science takes one step that further. Here’s what sociologist James Evans has to say: “Online journals promise to serve more information to more dispersed audiences and are more efficiently searched and recalled. But because they are used differently than print — scientists and scholars tend to search electronically and follow hyperlinks rather than browse or peruse — electronically available journals may portend an ironic change for science. Using a database of 34 million articles, their citations (1945 to 2005), and online availability (1998 to 2005), I show that as more journal issues came online, the articles referenced tended to be more recent, fewer journals and articles were cited, and more of those citations were to fewer journals and articles. The forced browsing of print archives may have stretched scientists and scholars to anchor findings deeply into past and present scholarship. Searching online is more efficient and following hyperlinks quickly puts researchers in touch with prevailing opinion, but this may accelerate consensus and narrow the range of findings and ideas built upon.”

In short, when everything points one direction, people tend to agree, which isn’t necessarily the ideal formula for challenging the status quo and delivering true innovation. Murphy’s Law — unintended consequences — prevails.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow