Scientific Communication for Natural Resource Professionals

Chapter 1: Communicating Science: From Cuneiform to the Contemporary and Beyond

Cecil A. Jennings


Communicating the results of scientific inquiry is a necessary part of the practice of modern science. Traditionally, such communications almost always included a written document. As a result, the number and variety of publication outlets for journal articles, books, and other technical publications have increased dramatically in the past few decades. The advent of the Internet has increased the scope and types of information used to communicate science. Online-only journals, podcasts, videos, and interactive maps are but a few of the recent changes to modern scientific communication. Technological advances in recording, storing, and disseminating scientific information seemingly are progressing faster than our ability to formulate conventions regarding the use of these technologies for communicating science. For example, Hunter (1990) edited a book entitled Writing for Fishery Journals, in which he and other editors of fishery-related journals offer guidelines for avoiding common mistakes that they encountered in draft manuscripts submitted for publication consideration. The book covers topics such as usage and style, graphs and tables, statistical issues, and author-editor relations. Hunter’s (1990) book has been used as a textbook in many university classes in scientific communication but, in recent years, has become dated because it does not address any Internet-related topics, such as online journals, citing e-mails, podcasting, and Web-related databases (e.g., the Web of Science).

The current volume, Scientific Communication for Natural Resource Professionals, was originally conceived as a replacement for the volume by Hunter (1990). As the book project grew from concept to reality, the title was changed to acknowledge that the communication issues faced by fisheries scientists are shared by our colleagues in the other natural resource–related professions. In addition, the scope of the book was broadened to encompass a range of Web-related and other publication opportunities not addressed in Hunter’s volume. My objectives with this introductory chapter are (1) to provide a brief historical context for the evolution of written communication, including the rise of the scientific journal as we know it today; (2) to provide an assessment of the current state of scientific communication; and (3) to consider some emerging issues that pertain to conventions for future scientific communication.