FEATURE ARTICLE

On the Behavior of Scientists or
The Impact of the Internet on Psychology: Part I


Donald P. Corriveau, Ph.D.

An interesting concept that describes the focus of
scientific inquiry is the word "behavior." At one end of
the continuum, scientists study the behavior of planets and
solar systems. At the subatomic end of this continuum,
scientists study the behavior of leptons, quarks, and gauge
bosons. Psychology, which studies the behavior of
organisms, falls somewhere between the endpoints of this

An intimate relationship exists between the behavior of
scientists and the questions they seek to answer. The
ultimate goal of science is to develop laws and theories
that parsimoniously explain a wide variety of events.
Conversely, existing theoretical formulations dictate, in
large part, the particular questions that scientists
attempt to answer. Coupled to this symbiotic relationship
is the advancement of technology that affects future
generations of scientists.

At the beginning of the 17th century, many astronomers had
accepted the notion that the sun was the center of our
solar system and that the Earth turned on its axis. In
Kuhnian terms, this was a major "paradigm shift." However,
astronomers also believed that the planets moved in
circular orbits. Mathematical models did not fit empirical
observations. Studying this problem for six years, Johannes
Kepler struggled with the clumsy mathematical models of his
era and discovered that planets followed an elliptical
pattern. Kepler's "laws of planetary motion" subsequently
led Sir Isaac Newton to his law of universal gravitation.

As seen in the above example, deficiencies in theories of
planetary motionn led Kepler to new mathematical models
that better explained the astronomical observations
contained in the Rudolphine tables, the almanac of the
positions of heavenly bodies. Kepler's revisions to the
Rudolphinean tables remain remarkably accurate today. Less
well known is how Kepler's contributions combined both
fortuitous communication and technological developments. As
a University professor in Graz, Austria, Kepler
communicated regularly with Galileo and Brahe.
Consequently, Kepler was one of the first to be informed by
Galileo about Galileo's invention of the telescope.
Subsequently, Kepler's pioneering efforts in optics led to
his invention of the present-day form of the astronomical

While beyond the scope of this article, it would be
interesting to trace how a succession of paradigm shifts
that began with Kepler's laws of planetary motion was
followed by Newtonian physics, Einstein's relativistic
corrections, and quantum mechanics. Let us not forget that
this entire chain of events began with "fortuitous

The purpose of this article will be to explore how
technological advancements in communication affect the
actual process of scientific inquiry. Particular attention
will be placed on understanding the role of technological
advances as they affect the science and profession of

As a starting point for this exploration, let's return to
the year 1600 and consider the forms of communication
available in that era. How would scientists communicate
with one another? Obviously, "word of mouth" communication
was available for several millennia. It was used by
Egyptian architects and Greek physicians. (Did the
Egyptians and Greeks communicate much with one another?)
Obviously, the speed and breadth of word-of-mouth
communication is restricted by geographical parameters.
(Ummm...who could I talk to about this?)

A second form of communication could be seen in the printed
word. I wonder how many libraries, publishing houses, and
periodicals existed in Kepler's days. (I also suspect that
the Curriculum Vitae of leading scientists in 17th century
were somewhat smaller and contained a greater percentage of
books as compared to journal articles.) Thus, technological
limitations in the printing and dissemination of the
written word provided formidable constraints on this form
of communication.

While books and professional publications constitute formal
communication, scientists also speak to one another through
the informal process of personal communication. We saw, for
example, how Kepler communicated with Galileo. (Again, I
can't help but wonder how long it took for one of Galileo's
letters to reach his pen pals.)

To summarize, existing forms of communication in the 17th
century seem to have been limited to:

1) synchronous oral communication 2) asynchronous formal
communication 3) asynchronous communication

These three forms of communication remain integral to the
scientific and professional pursuits of the twenty-first
century. Obviously, the efficiency of each form of
communication has increased exponentially during the last
half millennium. Two important questions are "How?" and

A comprehensive answer to these two elementary questions is
somewhat challenging. It would represent a wide variety of
inventions, scientific and technological advances and
societal evolution including, but not limited to, railroad
systems, the pony express, the telegraph, the telephone,
the transcontinental cable, the radio, the camera, the
printing press, television, orbiting communication
satellites, the personal computer, the tape recorder,
digital CD's, Psychology Today, the TV Talk Show, the 28.8K
(or is it 56K?) modem and the Internet. Clearly, this list
is far from exhaustive. (The download time of an exhaustive
list would be prohibitive.)

The remainder of this article is devoted to the last
invention noted in this limited listing. Ostensibly, the
Internet represents all three historical forms of
communication. Currently, the Internet allows both
synchronous and asynchronous communication. It also
contains examples of both formal and informal
correspondence. On the continuum of molecular and molar
events, the focus of this article will be on Psychology.
Stated more simply, "What impact does the Internet have on
the science and profession of psychology?" Has the Internet
affected the behavior of practitioners within this
discipline? Has the Internet affected the behavior of
scientists within this field?

It is quite interesting to note how a study of this medium
can be pursued within the medium itself! Parameters of
connectivity are inherent to a construct that combines
hardware, software and people. All three components are
included in the word Internet.

In studying the behavior of planets, Kepler conferred with
Galileo and Brahe. To continue my research (and this
article), I wish to confer with my colleagues. Instead of
revising the Rudolphine tables, I request your assistance
in updating the constantly evolving almanac called "the

While I could choose to share my own personal observations,
I am indeed reminded of a "paradigm shift" in the social
sciences that occurred within our own generation.
Specifically, Rosenthal and others have poignantly noted
the role of "expectancy" in the collection of empirical
observation. Thus, your input is requested before the
remainder of this article is written.

In what ways has the Internet affected your professional or
scientific life? To collect data on this question, I have
developed a small survey in electronic form and I have
placed this survey on the Internet. Please visit
http://ceus.com/survey.htm and submit the survey
electronically. The survey should take only 2-4 minutes to
complete and can be submitted anonymously. If this site is
"busy" the survey is mirrored at
http://www.ici.net/cust_pages/dr-don/invntory.htm .

If you can think of components not contained on my initial
survey, please send your asynchronous informal
communication to me.  Similarly, if you have anecdotes,
examples, or other commentary that might be included in the
next installment of this article, please send these as

...to be continued...

Note: Send Email to Dr. Corriveau at survey@ceus.com

or send mail to:

Donald P. Corriveau, Ph.D., F.P.P.R. Chairperson,
Department of Psychology University of Massachusetts -
Dartmouth North Dartmouth, MA 02747. USA