This short piece in the Chronicle discusses some of the emerging efforts to map data about scientific literature in new ways. I was reminded of the idea of “thought worlds” in science (Douglas 1986); these tools may provide another perspective on their emergence and consolidation and the relationships among them.
One of the commenters (mbelvadi) makes an excellent point, though, about how researchers’ proper use of existing data tools is sometimes rather weak – I have heard the same thing from students and others, that they search JSTOR or EBSCO host (implicitly assuming it is a comprehensive source of citations). Remember that you should always search a general citation index like ISI’s Web of Science (part of Web of Knowledge) or Google Scholar as a starting point; databases like JSTOR are simply full-text archives for specific sets of journals, and because of contractual details may or may not include all important journals for a particular field. They is not the same thing as a citation index. ISI’s web-based product has its roots in the old printed version of Science Citation Index, which you would remember as the blue books if you were old enough and had been doing research in the “old days” (and yes, I remember). It’s a lot more efficient and effective to use the online versions to explore threads of literature backwards and forwards in time, than it was to go back and forth through the years of blue books to do the same thing…but there was a certain romance or mystery to uncovering new relationships between ideas in the academic dialogue through time by flipping pages.