Slate’s Steven Johnson notes some problems with Google. All of them are fairly obvious to anyone who has ever used that service but this one is interesting:

Google is beginning to have a subtle, but noticeable effect on research. More and more scholarly publications are putting up their issues in PDF format, which Google indexes as though they were traditional Web pages. But almost no one is publishing entire books online in PDF form. So, when you’re doing research online, Google is implicitly pushing you toward information stored in articles and away from information stored in books. Assuming this practice continues, and assuming that Google continues to grow in influence, we may find ourselves in a world where, if you want to get an idea into circulation, you’re better off publishing a PDF file on the Web than landing a book deal.

Probably true. Indeed, I now use Google for things that I would once have headed off to the library for. Of course, we can take this one step further: If you want to get an idea to spread, you’re better off publishing it on a weblog–especially one read by Glenn Reynolds–than you are getting it published in an academic journal.

That said, there are no shortage of people still trying to get books and articles published. Clearly, informatiotion dissemination isn’t the only incentive out there. Career advancement, money, and pride are the most obvious ones.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Lemon says:

    Right. First, most books published should be articles and most articles should not be written. Second, the reason to publish — particulary in the social sciences, and really particularly in the humanities — is not to spread ideas as the modal number of times an article actually has some residual influence (i.e., is cited again) is zero. [Pay attention to the term “residual” there — I can see the obvious counterargument.] ARticles are published for career advancement and intellectual masturbation. My c.v. is padded with lots of Kleenex.

  2. Tiger says:

    Although I write in hopes of making some money from it, I have been writing for years with no recompensation of any kind other than the dissemination of my thoughts and ideas. To me, dissemination is the key.

  3. James Joyner says:


    Sure. I’m just saying people are still doing the other modes as well because of the additional rewards.

  4. Matthew says:

    It’s been my experience that the vast majority of reputable articles are not Google-accessible, and can only be downloaded through JSTOR or similar gateways. Google may link to a “pay-to-download” journal pages, but in my research (which is admittedly INR and CPO-related), the majority of the worthwhile articles Google links to are on scholar’s home pages; I usually Google an author I like and see if he has any articles available. That said, if JCR wants to start offering articles for free (which they won’t), I’m not gonna complain.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Matthew: Yeah. I didn’t mean to imply that I was trying to do academic research solely using Google:) Although I do expect to be able to get articles online now, which means I don’t go to the library nearly as much as I once did.

  6. Matthew says:

    James, I was more replying to the Slate article, which I found kind of twerpy. I definitely turn to Google when looking for government research and statistics from here and there.