The World before Wikipedia and Google

I have a lot of books. Like old friends, they sit on shelves and in boxes waiting for me to need them. It has been pointed out to me that books are very old fashioned and that — thanks to Google and Wikipedia — all the collected knowledge in the world is just a few clicks away on the Internet.

That is certainly true, but there is something comforting about having a familiar reference book in your hands when a deadline approaches. The bookmarks, the margin notes, and the almost memorized text and formulas magically transport me back to a classroom or office when this knowledge was first revealed.

It is a feeling the computer screen doesn’t duplicate, at least for a curmudgeon like me. I can almost remember the instructor’s voice; sometimes I still have a quiz or homework page stuffed in the book. If a co-worker told a joke around the topic it, too, comes rushing back to me. The information in my library is familiar, trusted, and true.

The same cannot be automatically said for everything I learn over the Internet. Unfortunately physics and science are not “crowd-sourced;” friction and gravity are not functions of opinion. The old system of book publishing has many flaws but at least authors were thoroughly vetted before the investment was made in editing, typesetting, and printing. Anyone can put their opinion on the Web, and while it will be subjected to constant “comment,” it is not the same as vetted, peer-reviewed content.

Convenience is no substitute for reliability. We can live with “democracy” in matters of entertainment where one person’s treasure is another person’s trash. But for science and engineering, a higher standard is needed; you cannot rely on whatever a search engine sends your way.

In the gear trade we are lucky to have reliable, peer reviewed papers accessible online. AGMA and other standards organizations take peer review very seriously, and so also does Gear Technology magazine. Web searchers can count on the papers that we publish and put in our archives to be reliable reflections of the gear art at the time they were written.

About Charles D. Schultz 677 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.