Deflating Information: From Science Studies to Documentation


311 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8839-2
DDC 306.4'2




Reviewed by Jeffrey Moon

Jeffrey Moon is head of the Maps, Data, and Government Information
Centre at Queen’s University.


In this book, Bernd Frohmann takes aim at the institution of scholarly
scientific publishing, seeking, first, to better understand this
“essential” yet “unwieldy” model, and second, to argue for “a
reorientation of the role of documents in science,” or “deflating

The author sets the stage using three “historical precursors”:
Francis Bacon, who espoused the “social and political organization of
scientific work”; Paul Otlet, who contributed the Universal Decimal
Classification (UDC) that “imposed on facts the organization they need
to become the raw materials … [needed] to generate scientific
knowledge”; and Robert Merton, who outlined social norms for the
scientific enterprise (including peer review and open communication of
findings). In succeeding chapters, Frohmann shows that formal scientific
literature is not a primary tool at the front lines of research and asks
why this is so. At the same time, he argues that “science and
information share a fundamental and essential connection, and that doing
science is in some intrinsic way an engagement with information.”

In many ways, Frohmann succeeds in this effort. The examples he uses do
a good job of illustrating the often abstract concepts under scrutiny.
In one instance, describing the process of “scientific validation,”
Frohmann compares Bell’s development of the telephone with a village
shaman’s concoction of herbal remedies. The resulting narrative brings
the author’s message home very effectively. There are times, however,
when Frohmann buries his ideas in overly complex language. For example,
try decoding “A cognitivist criterion of identity for what counts as
‘uses’ supports their quantification, thereby providing theoretical
justification for statistical investigations of retrieval
satisfactions.” This sentence is not an isolated phenomenon.

The book taps into a wide range of scholarly sources and has over 40
pages of notes. The index, at nine pages, is a bit thin. Neither Bell
nor the telephone, the subjects of a three-page discussion, are indexed.
Wide-ranging, well- researched, and at times provocative, Deflating
Information extends the debate over the current and future roles of
scientific publishing.


Frohmann, Bernd., “Deflating Information: From Science Studies to Documentation,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,