Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads:
I.Overture: The Subversive Proposal
The first response to Harnad's proposal was swift, practical: an offer by a systems administrator to house a comprehensive scientific electronic publishing system. A brief exchange about level of support took place. For the reader, the discussion here emphasizes that the problems with enacting such a large-scale vision are not technical but social.
Does the responsibility for scientific and scholarly findings lie at the grass roots with individual scholars or should there be institutionalization and centralization -- or both? Nobel Prize Winner Joshua Lederberg, looking to the practical uses of more and better information that the scientist can use, introduces the idea of institutional rather than discipline-based archives. From the library community, encouragement to recover some control over the economic fate of faculty products; then discussion of the place of the large learned societies in the publishing landscape ensues.
Electronic Publishing Cost?
Discourse by a leader from the American Chemical Society, one of today's largest and most electronically seasoned publishers, takes the discussion to a new level and adds specific detail of costs and economics to the conversation. Whether electronic publishing will be cheaper or more expensive than print on paper, at least in the near term, is an important underlying question.
Several scientists contribute. One is a long-time editor of a substantive electronic newsletter for computer scientists and shares his economic perspectives. Another volunteers to promote the Harnad proposal. Another, a creator of the World Wide Web, comments and offers encouragement for the future. Yet another sees a role for the European Community. Striking is the consensus of the proposal's proponents that practical actions can take precedence for the time being over broader considerations.
Ginsparg and Harnad return to speculation about the practical elements of the proposal. The first of a series of responses from the library community follows.
Publishing; Infrastructure Investments
The American Chemical Society's Lorrin Garson returns to the discussion with detailed comments about the significant planning and investment course the Society has already taken in moving into non-print publication. He makes the case that scaling up and sustaining production require considerable thought and infrastructure support. More numbers are introduced; Harnad differentiates esoteric publication from other sectors of the information market.
Andrew Odlyzko of AT&T Bell Labs, himself a proponent of similar enterprises, joins the discussion as a third strong voice after Harnad and Ginsparg and presents an essay about staging the transition to electronic scholarly journals.
One of the proponents insists that moving to electronic journals is a more simple process than other discussants believe to be the case. Richard Entlich, a librarian at Cornell, with substantial hands-on experience in implementing online journals for university researchers, shares his experience and points to the complexity of the publishing landscape and the interrelated nature of the various parts.
Prima Facie Worries
For several years, Harnad has spoken out about objections to electronic publishing that he sees as ill-founded. Here he takes the opportunity of a contribution to this discussion to review those worrisome issues.
View from Europe
Bernard Naylor is the University Librarian at the University of Southhampton. He initially joined the discussion through a paper coincidentally written at about the moment the "subversive" discussion was beginning. This section begins his various contributions to the subversive proposal.
Esoterica or Scholarship?
A return to a question of distinguishing "publishing" from other forms of network-public discourse. What seemed fairly simple in the world of print (for example, knowing the difference between a publication and a private letter) begins to be more complicated in a medium where formal discourse and chit-chat flow in the same pipeline. Does "esoteric" do justice to the significance of scholarly publishing?
Costs and Editorial Costs
The question of costs returns to the fore, arising from a proposal for a specific project. The question is taken up of what and whether editors should be paid. A university press journals manager contributes some current, real-world information to the discourse on editors and editorial offices. One of the undoubted inefficiencies of the present journal system is the delay and redundancy introduced by a distributed and publication-linked practice of peer-review, re submission, and limited acceptances.
Publishing Systems and Models
Bernard Naylor, who entered the correspondence with a paper he wrote for another forum, now offers extended remarks that take up the issues of the whole series. His new contribution views the journals publishing system holistically and takes up issues such as prestige, pressure to publish, conservatism of authors and publishers, and the prognosis for acceptance of electronic publications by all the players in the current academic information chain.
Discussions -- Format, Economics, Submissions
Several messages pick up various topical threads that arose earlier in the discussion.
XVI.The Collapse of
Frank Quinn, a mathematician at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and a member of various American Mathematical Society decision-making committees, adds a further voice foreseeing radical change to the discussion.
Structural Costs -- Networks & Connectivity
A wider context for costs is invoked. How cheap will the infrastructure be? How expensive is a good network? Will universities and scholars have to pay more? How much?
The measure of use that is most easily quantified on a national or international basis is "citation frequency." This group of messages began during the net-wide subversive proposal discussion and then some of the discussants picked up the topic about two months after the main body of the conversation ended, for further probing. Not every message in the sequence went to the public lists directly; there was more discussion among individuals, with some of those postings occasionally being referred to the wider audience. In this regard, a rudimentary kind of editing and peer review is already taking place.
XIX.More on Costs
-- of Digitization
Some new evidence is presented suggesting that the costs of digitization, or at least compression, may be shrinking. In order to prepare this book for publication, the editors artificially cut off a discussion that still continues at the time of final proofs (May 1995) and shows no likelihood of ending for a long time.
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Last Modified: April 9, 1998
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