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All About Scientific Literature

Learn everything you need to know about scientific literature, including how to find, understand, use, and ultimately create your own.

The Scientific Communication Ecosystem

Scientists, engineers, technologists, and mathematicians all produce and consume information. This is a key element of how modern science is able to function. In the hundreds of years since Western science began to systematically employ the scientific method, complex formalized systems have evolved to allow scientists to share their findings, receive feedback, and learn from each other. 

Perhaps the archetypal example of this ecosystem at work is the scholarly academic journal, and the peer reviewed academic articles published within it. Academic journals provide a platform for scientists to share their work with their peers, and they also provide a gatekeeping system to ensure that only high quality, relevant, and carefully fact-checked information makes it to publication. This system is called "peer review" and while it isn't perfect, it is a powerful force within the scientific communication ecosystem.

While peer reviewed journal articles are often spoken of as a "gold standard" due to the strength of the peer review system, they are by no means the only way that scientific information is shared. In some fields, such as computer science, much information is shared through conference proceedings, which are shorter papers written to accompany authors' presentations and posters at academic conferences. Additionally, the book-length dissertations produced by academics in order to receive their PhD are often exciting sources of scholarship.

Additionally, a rich body of literature exists for purposes outside of sharing new discoveries. In engineering and related fields, a valuable source of information is the technical standard, a formal document created by a governing body to establish specifications and procedures that maximize the efficiency, safety, and effectiveness of a product, method, or service. Patents, technical reports, and safety codes are all part of the same class of information, which are crucial for facilitating the work of people in STEM fields.

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