As might be expected, the tremendous advances in science and technology have been accompanied by ever increasing numbers of people entering these fields. Estimates indicate that the number o scientists and engineers doubles once every 10 to 15 years. This phenomenon has some curious effects. it means for example, that more than 80 per cent of the scientists who have ever lived in the world are alive today, in 1900 there were only about 50 scientists and engineers for every million people. Today there are well over 500 per million. A scientists, reaching the end of his career and looking back, would find that 90% of what is known about his field has been learned during his lifetime.
This fantastic growth has brought with it enormous difficulties. The traditional method of communication among scientists themselves have been breaking down. For centuries , scientist have communicated with their colleagues mainly by writing and publishing the results of their research in scientific journals. With the growth in the numbers of scientists, the number of journals have also climbed, form slightly more than 1000 a century ago to more than 75,000 today. It is simply impossible for scientists or engineer to read all the literature relevant to his work. As a result, there is needless duplication of research and the efficiency of the scientific enterprise is reduced.
An early attempt to solve the problem posed by floods of scientific communication was the abstract service. Such services read all published papers in a given area of science and published abstracts, or short paragraphs, summarizing the results presented in each paper. Much scientific research, however, is difficult to abstract; and the anstractor may miss the real significance of an important paper. Also, the abstract journals themselves have grown so bulky that it is difficult even to skim through them on a regular basis.
Another attempt to ease the communications problem is specialized journals. Most scientific research itself is quite specialized. A biologist, for example , may specialize in studying the nerve impulses in honeybees. He may have to read dozens of articles in a journal of invertebrate zoology before finding one directly relevant to his own research. Most of the articles in a journal of arthropod neurophysiology, on the other hand, are likely to be significant to him. Such specialization promises to be taken even further by computers. Several schemes are now being studied we hereby scientific papers would be printed individually rather than bound into magazines. Each scientist would fill out a form listing his areas of scientific interest. A computer would make certain that the scientist received only those papers related to the area of research he listed.
Such extreme specialization while it increases the likelihood that scientist working in similar fields will stay in touch with a one another, reduces communication between scientists in different fields. It often happens that a discovery in one area of science will spark discoveries in other, quite different area. In formulating the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin (1809-82) was influenced by a textbook on geology by Charles Lyell (1797-1875) and a treatise on human populations by Thomas Malthus (1766-1834). For such cross disciplinary inspiration to occur, however, scientists must be aware of research in fields other than their own. Such awareness is becoming more and more difficult to maintain as the overall literature increases and becomes more specialized.
An even more difficult problems is communication between scientists and the general public. As more research takes place, at a faster and faster pace, the public gets further behind in understanding significance of what has been done and discovered. At the same time, scientific research is having a greater direct impact on everyday life. The computer, the laser and the nuclear reactor are just three inventions destined to have far-reaching and direct effects on each of our lives. Those effects can be helpful or harmful. For a government or a public to control those effects, they must have a thorough understanding of the principles of the inventions and of their potential for good and ill. The public must become scientifically literate, and quite quickly at that, if it is to control its density in an age of technological expansion that will not wait for the publish understanding to catch up.