Thursday, December 09, 2010

Questioning Longitude

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Timeis a book that was first published in the mid-90's.

I read the book and really enjoyed it. Recently I was reading the current reviews for the book on Amazon and there was a review that was very critical of the book. In the critical review there was a cite to an article in the Journal of Navigation (The Royal Institute of Navigation) that questioned the Sobel book. The article is titled: The Age of Sail: A Time when the Fortunes of Nations and Lives of Seamen Literally Turned with the Winds Their Ships Encountered at Sea. You can read the full text of the article here.

Here is the abstract for the article: This paper examines the evidence to support the view that the inability of seamen to determine accurate longitude at sea in sailing ships was a major factor in the loss of ships and crews that was effectively solved by the introduction of the marine chronometer. It concludes that this was not the case and that a more compelling factor for the safety of ships was the introduction of mechanical propulsion systems.

The keywords attached to the record of the article at the Cambridge Journals website are Longitude; Dava Sobel; John Harrison; Sailing Ships. These keywords indicate that the article is specifically questioning the Sobel book. From a library standpoint this got me to thinking about how libraries can best make readers aware of books and articles that question other books and articles. Should this be built into the catalog or is this best left to another tool or system? There are systems to do citation analysis but many of these are coming from the angle of quantifying faculty work for tenure and promotion. See: How Best to Judge Impact in the Digital Age – A View from the Cited Reference Trenches

One problem in this particular case is that this particular article came out almost 15 years after the book was published so even if libraries were making connections between these type of articles and books they could not have connected this article to the book until 2010.


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