A series of 21 online books has been launched as part of an initiative to provide a bridge between the humanities and the sciences. The aim is to create:
a resource for researching and teaching relevant science issues across the humanities
The project is interesting in a number of ways. The range of topics covered is broad, from straightforward science topics such as pharmacology, veterinary science, and human genomics, through interdisciplinary topics like astrobiology, consciousness, and bioethics, to frankly imponderable titles such as “Digitize Me, Visualize Me, Search Me“, “Creative Evolution“, and “Partial Life“. The nature of the books is unusual too – the editor of each book has selected existing open access content and repackaged it as a book, with an introduction and maybe some introductory text for each article or section. Some video and other audio-visual material is also included. And finally the books are intended to be living documents:
These ‘books about life’ will themselves be ‘living’, i.e., they will be open to ongoing collaborative processes of editing, updating and commenting upon, by readers of all levels.
It’s not really clear to me at this stage how this will work. Only registered people can edit the pages and you have to apply for an account by telling the site something about yourself, so there is some level of screening. Since most of the content inside the books (at least those I looked at) is external to the book itself, being links to PDFs or videos elsewhere on the web, so most of the book cannot be edited.
You can also download the whole of a book as a “frozen” pdf.
It is an interesting idea and I applaud the experiment. Whether the books have enough coherence to have the force of a traditional book remains to be seen. This is always a problem with multi-author works but even more so when the separate components are just stuck together rather than edited together.
I am intrigued to know how scientists will respond to the books. The editors seem to be drawn from the world of humanities so there may be some toes being trodden on and some boundaries being crossed. I think this is a good thing but I know that not everyone shares that view.