Physical Science Information Practices

Exploring the information seeking, organizing, archiving and communicating capacities of physical sciences communities as a study case (and role model) for effective information processing regimes and behaviours in complex problem-solving tasks.


Dr Eric Meyer

Tel: +44 (0)1865 287218



Physical sciences, hunting for the exploration of fundamental laws of nature, have played a special role for the natural sciences in the 19th and 20th century. As a discipline they formed an interface between mathematics and other natural sciences, but also between natural sciences, engineering, applied sciences and technological development. Not only have they influenced other sciences, epistemic and social behaviour characterizing this specific scientific community has often functioned as role model for other sciences. For example: the preprint culture developed primarily in high-energy physics (the first exceptional field of large scale and international collaboration) diffused first into physics and triggered (together with the web - another by-product of high-energy physics) the current web-based repository and open access movement. More recent developments as 'web travel in time' (Memento project) or 'life-stream data on information seeking behaviour' (Mesur project) also have their origins in physical science research environments.

Such developments make the information seeking, organizing, archiving and communicating capacities of this particular community an interesting case to be studied for possible effective regimes of information processing behaviour when confronted with complex problem solving tasks.

Case Studies

Information about case studies will be made available here.

Research Methodology

The methods for this project are a combination of measures of personal interviews, participants' information uses, and focus groups. They provide a thorough approach to understanding the range of information uses in the broad and diverse types of research that comprises the humanities, and how information behaviours are changing in light of broader changes in how information technologies are having an impact on scholarly information creation, management, use and dissemination.

We will use semi-structured interviews with participants to capture information about the whole cycle of information behaviours and their uses of information resources. Logs of participant web browsing will be collected for a period of several research active days with follow-up interviews to discuss their user-specific information inventory. Participants will be asked to complete a diary entry for any information sources they consult that are not already being logged by their web browser. The web-use logs and diaries will be analysed to identify patterns of behaviour, problems and areas that might be improved by the adoption of new working practices or technologies. In the follow up interviews, they will be asked what they thought about the resources, and whether they had any problems with their use.

Case study focus groups for each case will be convened, made up primarily of those people interviewed as part of the case study. The focus groups will be designed to elicit opinions both on the conclusions of the draft case studies, as well as to elicit additional information about uses of information in research contexts. We will also integrate additional data using techniques such as webometrics (a technique for finding links to and from web pages). This link analysis will focus both on the resources that we are using to recruit participants for the case studies, and on the most frequently cited information sources uncovering in the browser logs, information diaries, information drawings, interviews and focus groups.

The multiple methods in this case involve automatic and manual data collection on information behaviours, personal interviews, focus groups, and webometrics; these will also be supplemented with desk research for the initial literature review and the final report. The methods being employed have been selected to complement each other to produce a holistic picture of the cases. We expect the final results to be much stronger and more well supported by data than would be possible using only one or two stand-alone methods.

Results and Dissemination

The final project report will be available in June 2011. Interim findings will be presented at events at each collaborating partner, and at other relevant conferences and workshops.

We will provide the full datasets to RIN and to other researchers to conduct any relevant research, hence helping to ensure maximal use of the raw data, cost effectiveness, and encouraging further research relevant to academic information use in the humanities.


Project Leads

  • Dr Marina Jirotka (Co-Principal Investigator), Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC)

  • Professor Eric T. Meyer (Principal Investigator, Project Director), Oxford Internet Institute

  • Dr Melissa Terras (Co-Principal Investigator), University College London

  • Dr Will Venters (Co-Principal investigator), London School of Economics (LSE)

  • Dr Sally Wyatt (Co-Principal Investigator), Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and Maastricht University





  • Online tools are 'distraction' for science

    25 January 2012 Physics World

    Eric Mayer and Monica Bulger are authors of a new report by RIN looking at information practices in the physical sciences. They find that physical scientists "are still fairly conservative when it comes to adopting new communications technologies".

  • Managing research information: one size does not fit all

    25 January 2012

    Eric Mayer and Monica Bulger are authors of a new report by RIN looking at information practices in the physical sciences, and highlighting the richly varied ways in which physical scientists work, collaborate and share information.