Similarities between Legal and Scientific Literature

Article excerpt

The relationship between law and science is discussed in a large body of literature. Much of this concerns the impact law has on science and vice versa. Another theme compares the value systems and methods of the two fields. Several authors have noted the similar yet slightly discordant values that law and science hold toward progress and advancement in a structured social order.|1,2,3~ There is even a theme asserting that law and science are different manifestations of searches for regularity, order, and control.|4~

It is ironic that few authors have addressed the similarities between the literature and indexing of the two areas, and possible implications for libraries. Law is usually viewed as a social science closely allied to sociology and political science, with connections to history and philosophy. It should be expected that law would have literature patterns similar to those fields. However, for several reasons, the literature of law is conceptually and structurally different from the remainder of the social sciences and closer to that of the sciences. Legal and scientific libraries have more in common than might be expected.

Serials Literature

The most obvious area of similarity is the relative importance of serials in the two fields. Most writers agree that serial literature constitutes a much higher percentage of the total publications, use, and citation in the sciences than in either the social sciences or humanities.|5,6~ Legal literature has a similar emphasis on serials.|7,8~ This emphasis is even stronger in the United States than in other countries. The U.S. system of federalism has a disproportionate number of legislative, administrative, and judicial institutions issuing laws, regulations, and rulings in serial form. U.S. courts, unlike those in parliamentary democracies, often interpret legislative intent beyond that indicated in statutes.|9~ Hence legislative documents, such as reports or committee hearings, are considered important legal serials. The U.S., being unusually litigious, also has a high volume of case law.

Indexing Systems

An emphasis on serial literature almost necessitates an emphasis on serials indexing. Legal and scientific indexes are numerous and tend to be highly structured and well-organized. There are conceptual similarities in the manner in which legal and scientific indexes are used. One of the guiding principles of legal research and practice is stare decisis (to abide by, or adhere to decided cases).|10~ Precedents are sought by consulting legal sources and indexes. However, legislation and judicial interpretations are always changing. Legal research usually consists of a simultaneous search for precedent and currentness. A similar approach is used in scientific research. Certainly, this is true to a degree in any field; however, the literature is more stable in the humanities and social sciences, and currentness is usually not as important.|11~ Hence, a continuous linkage between past and current literature is not sought as often in the social sciences and humanities.

The structure of legal and scientific indexes differs somewhat and tends to be more detailed and elaborate than that of the social sciences and humanities indexes. Indexing is a complex activity that brings items together in a topical or conceptual manner but also separates them so the details or unique features of the items are identifiable. Indexes in all subject areas balance the organization and extraction by concepts with the organization and extraction by details.

Indexes in the humanities often emphasize thematic or conceptual organization over detail. Sometimes it is difficult to extract desired details or clearly identify the scope and coverage of humanities indexes.|12~ Social science indexes share some of these same characteristics.|13,14~ It is often perceived that researchers in the social sciences and humanities do not require tightly constructed or detailed indexes, as they rely more on citations in monographic bibliographies or informal collegial information exchange. …