WASHINGTON—Last spring’s newspaper stories that described how IBM researchers had boosted the critical current density of a superconductive thin-film crystal by a factor of 100 were also bringing news of the discovery to most scientists. Not until six weeks later were the details published in Physical Review Letters.

Increasingly, scientists in fast-paced fields are announcing breakthroughs at meetings or press conferences. Long before results appear in scientific journals, they circulate in the popular press, by word of mouth, as preprints or in various newsletters, databases and other sources set up to convey information quickly. (See THE SCIENTIST, July 13, 1987, p. 1.)

Some scientists worry about this departure from the established practice of announcing results only as they are published in a journal. “I find the trend a bit disturbing,” said M. Brian Maple, a physicist doing superconductivity research at the University of California at San Diego. When details...

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