Medical Bibliography in an Age of Discontinuity

Medical Bibliography in an Age of Discontinuity

The position had been reached where almost every scientist and technician agreed that something should be done but nobody could decide on the exact course of action, or if they agreed on the course of action, they could not put forward concrete proposals for implementing it.

E. M. R. DITMAS (1948)1

IT IS A HISTORICAL ANOMALY that the stresses resulting from World War I are generally believed to have caused the closing of one of the world’s great scientific bibliographies, the International Catalogue of Scientific Literature, but the forces generated by World War II helped to bring about the greatest explosion of scientific bibliographic activity the world has ever known. The emergence of Big Science from its wartime precedents and its postwar economic imperatives created new orders of magnitude in terms of research dollars, research manpower, and research productivity. What is even more important, Big Science enforced a new research strategy, based on the wartime model, of multidisciplinary, mission-oriented research, superimposing it on the disciplines of academic science and product-oriented industrial development alike.

All of this exerted enormous influence on the requirements for the management of scientific (and medical-scientific) information. The governmental and private communities committed to this new order reappraised the value of scientific and technical information for purposes of national defense and national economic and social development, and bibliographic organization of knowledge for mission-oriented science achieved a new level of public support.

Before examining these wartime models and their conversion to peacetime Big Science, it would be well to review the status of bibliography as it was in the immediate prewar world and as preparations were being made to continue its traditions in the peacetime economy after the war.

Prior to World War II, the federal government had been at best indifferent to bibliographic enterprises in the sciences generally. Such programs and projects as were conducted by federal agencies—for example, the Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office, the Bibliography of Agriculture, the Bibliography of North American Geology, the Index-Catalogue of Medical and Veterinary Zoology, and the bibliographic products of the Smithsonian Institution—were grudgingly funded and continued largely through the dedication of groups of individuals working in isolated conditions.

Medical Bibliography in an Age of Discontinuity

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