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Web access - if you can afford it - is patchy. Arxiv.org is open. Phys Rev, Nature and the rest charge a subscription.
And Phys Rev and the rest still matter to journalists, if maybe not so much to scientists, because the content is easier to filter through if you're looking for a story. Arxiv.org is a sprawling free for all in comparison. You might find a story in there, if you're lucky. But it'll probably take you half a day of sifting through abstracts.
One problem with limited public access to information is that often you don't know that you're interested in a publication or book until you fall over it by accident.
Google may be a kludge, but at least you can search for things easily and have a decent chance of finding something relevant.
Not so with paper, where it's not only expensive, it's also inaccessible in the more practical sense of being invisible until you discover it. And your chances of discovering it depend on where you live and how rich you are.
We come to judge the reliability, or integrity, of information by how many different publishers repeat the same news.
Over time though even this metric becomes unstable.
The upside of www distribution, besides low reproduction cost, is that many publications maintain searchable archives. These are not cached by search engines. For the price of registration (0), one can retrieve the digital copy of an article for a fraction of it's original cost -- $4 or $6 is about market rate -- bundled in the annual subscription price valued which may be 1000x more.
That seems a small price to pay for specificity and convenience.
Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
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