ICSU Press Workshop 31 March to 2 April

Report of Working Group 1

Chair: Anthony Watkinson, Rapporteur: Tim Hogan



It was my decision as chairman of the group, but one which appeared to be accepted by the group as a whole, that we should treat the questions provided by the programme committee as intended for guidance rather than as a framework. My experience of the workshop on real costs at the Paris conference convinced me that too close an adherence to a pre-arranged agenda, in that case an attempt to determine in detail where real costs actually lay, could straitjacket a discussion which might otherwise have been more fruitful.

Nevertheless we found the questions useful and returned to them from time to time especially when general discussion became too specific or too diffuse.

Given the free flowing nature of the discussion, what we did not discuss or question was very significant. No-one for example challenged the continuing role of the traditional journal article.

We did establish some general principles quite early on :

We felt that the concern of the workshop should be with the advancement of science rather than just with the process of scientific communication.

We considered that it was important to take into account the diversity of the scientific process and the different needs of different disciplines.

We were clear that the workshop should recognise that we are in a time of transition and that more predictions and adjurations to action, certainly those that looked beyond the immediate, are not likely to be worth much. ( In parenthesis I would like to add that I do not think anyone at the meeting has put forward the thesis, which I find compelling, that we are not in a time of transition which leads on to a time of stabilisation but we have to accustom ourselves to continuous change).

Needless to say we ignored these general principles from time to time.

We had been instructed by the programme committee to start with the first set of questions and indeed the concerns of the scientific author dominated our approach to all the questions. We linked this set of questions to question 4D on archiving because of our perception of its importance to the development of electronic only journals.

The headings below are slightly different from those implied by the questions.


1. Electronic Journals - where we are now and where we are going?

We agreed that it is important that the work of the scientist should be transmitted to the reader in the form prepared by the scientist without distortion, subtraction or addition and that the name of the scientist should be attached to the communication. The authenticity of an electronic article must be guaranteed. This may be achieved using some form of watermarking but we did not want to mandate a technology. This could be the basis for a recommendation.

The importance of maintaining an electronic archive was agreed unanimously, but we need to consider what should be retained. There has to be selection but this must included all peer-reviewed material including links, with consideration given to subsidiary data and earlier or later versions of the article if an appropriate mode of handling these could be found. Standards should be developed for article formats (if this is practicable). Most research so far on archiving has recommended dispensing with the links but in the electronic arena as they are so much part of the value added it can be hoped that the development of the Digital Object Identifier or a similar system might make retention of links possible. This section could be developed into a recommendation from this workshop urging the relevant authorities in each country to act urgently or expedite action already begin to make sure that our "electronic heritage" is preserved. The relevant authorities will vary from country to country. In some countries such as the United Kingdom the national library through legal deposit is likely to assume the role envisaged but the situation in the United States is very different and potentially more difficult to resolve.

Traditional peer review or some other form of certification remains a vital part of the overall quality control process. We could confirm this in a resolution since, although this may be obvious to us, attacks on peer review have been common in some very visible forums. There was some discussion of open review systems but they were not felt to be appropriate in all disciplines.

Authors should be made more aware of the ways in which electronic publishing can provide opportunities for the enhancement of the content of their articles and indeed make forms of communication possible which were impossible in print. This could involve either additional data or "dynamic" entities in multimedia form as well as links. Publishers need to pay attention to the development of procedures for the refereeing of such components which will gain respect.


2. The Economics of Electronic Journals

The group believed that the various players now appreciate that there are significant extra costs involved in the production and handling of electronic journals if they are parallel to print journals and that even a "pure" electronic journal especially if extra functionality is required is unlikely to be cheaper if all the costs are properly allocated.

Governments should invest more in the wider dissemination of scientific research via electronic publishing, for example by providing additional funding for libraries, and their technological infrastructure specifically for the purpose of making it possible to optimise access and usage. We did briefly discuss the question of the potential charging for access to the Internet becoming something laid upon the individual scientist rather than something carried by government and I would suggest that a recommendation pleading the special needs of information exchange free at the point of use for the progress of science, as well perhaps of the maintenance of dedicated bandwith, might be an appropriate action to be taken.

The group felt that it was inevitable that different pricing models will operate during this period of transition and probably continue to do so in view of the complexity of any scenario which we could envisage. Publishers are encourage to explore different models. The page charge model as proposed at the Paris conference may be appropriate for some disciplines where government funding is specifically applied to most scientific research. It was felt that "pay by the drink" for electronic document delivery will become inevitable, however important the subscription model is for publishing budgets, and it was clear that the publishers present were actively working on appropriate systems to enable this. If links are to provide other than paths to a dead end, such a change of policy by the content providers is clearly necessary.

Archives will be expensive to maintain. For this reason governmental funding will be required and access may not be free.


3. The roles of participants in the publishing process

The publishing function will continue even if different entities undertake it in the future. (In parenthesis I would add that the new structures which commentators have envisaged as outflanking traditional commercial and learned society publishers are taking a long time to emerge). Though we did not specifically discuss the role of librarians, the continuance of the navigational and other roles was implicitly assumed.

Authors, publishers, governments and libraries in each country should work together to formulate a national archiving policy.

There is an underlying problem of the increasing cost of scientific information to the purchasers which is exacerbated by too much publishing of papers that are not necessary to the advancement of science. The group wanted to urge the adoption of procedures adopted in some schools or universities which only ask a specified number of papers to be presented as evidence of worth when research is being assessed.

4. Developing and non English speaking countries and their role in electronic publishing

Governments should foster a two-way flow of information by supporting the publishing initiatives and the technological infrastructure of developing countries to enable greater use of and the development of electronic journals.

The group recommended that header information, including abstracts, should always be available in English, perhaps utilising machine translation, for articles published in languages other than English with a view to assisting retrieval and making the content available through the operations of research engines and electronic directories.

Our group considered there was nothing to be lost by stating what to us was obvious even if such statements might appear bland to those closely involved in the electronic publishing process.

2 April l998

Last updated : 06 July 1998
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