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Research, Literature, and Dissemination of Scientific Information

A scientific theory usually has gone through a long period of development. For example, the concept of chemical elements stems from the notion that certain fundamental substances exist. By a combination of them all substances are derived. Robert Boyle proclaimed the concept of chemical elements as follows:

I mean by Elements, as those Chymists that speak plainest do by their Principles, certain Primitive and Simple or perfectly unmingled bodies; which not being made of any other bodies, or of one another, are the Ingredients of which all those call'd perfectly mixt (i.e. compound) Bodies are immediately compounded and into which they are ultimately resolved.

Boyle predicted the existence of some fundamental substances and named them chemical elements. The farsighted prediction energized scientific workers to find evidence or truth.

Why did other scholars believed Boyle, and accepted his theory?
In particular, why did Lavoisier have faith in this theory?

The statement gave Lavoisier the courage to claim some substances as chemical elements before he had any proof. Of course, Lavoisier not only believed Boyle's theory, he agreed with him. The discovery of chemical elements led to Dalton's Atomic Theory and Mendeleyev's Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. These developments enables us to translate such a notion into modern language as

An element is a substance that cannot be decomposed into anything simpler. A combination of the elements make up all the natural substance or material.

Today, most people consider that there were 92 natural elements. However, a new comer to chemistry may be confused after having seeing many periodic tables list more than 100 elements, without realizing the elements with atomic number greater than 92 were made by artificial means. Actually, elements technetium (Tc) and promethium (Pm) are also absent, because all their isotopes are unstable.

Researchers at the early stage often meet and discuss their findings at conferences or in their mutual visits of each other. They learned from each other and in they stimulate their thought via discussions. The exchange of ideas and information among peers is the spirit on the campus of the invisible college, which led to a great success in scientific exploration. The entire society has benefited as a result.

During the first half of the 20th century, the politicians discovered the power of science. They supported scientific research by allocating resource to institutions that undertook scientific research. Granting agencies were set up to distribute funds to universities. Grant holding professors take many young people under their wings and students flock to famous professors for a piece of the excitement. Many more people joined the research and development on campus of many universities. Professors are leaders whereas students work as entrepreneurs. They test their ideas by design various experiments. Experimental results, their interpretations, discussions, and theorizations are reported in refereed journals.

Due to the large number of scientific researchers, the number of papers published has been grown exponentially over the years. Papers sending to the refereed journals are usually sent out to two referees by the editors of the journals. The referees are experts in the field of the paper. The paper is published when both referees recommended its publishing. Often, the referees suggest corrections and modifications. These papers are primary publications or literature.

Primary publications are written by and for experts in their respective field. The adjudication process tries to make the contents true and accurate, and laymen will not get much from the primary literature. Authors of review articles gather as many papers as they can in particular fields, and these are published in review journals, transactions, and monographs as secondary literature.

For business, profession and other applications, many professional organizations take the responsibility to arrange scientific information and data for their members. These are considered tertiary literature, to which textbooks belong too.

Publication of information is a technology as well as a business. Articles in magazines such as Scientific American, New Scientist, Science etc appeal to a very wide audience. Yet, some other magazines, news media, and monograph aim at a readership at lower level. These articles are often short essays and their information may have come elsewhere. Therefore, they are not suitable for references.