Comments from Dr. Barbara Kirsop of the Electronic Publishing Trust.

We would like to add comments regarding the questions listed for the working groups (as shown in the revised programme) as we feel we have experience of many of the issues raised that could be of interest to others:

[1] Will the time come when pure e-pub is a viable alternative to hard copy publishing?

Our view is that the time is certainly already here. Participants should access the excellent and comprehensive WWW site at the University of Toronto for confirmation (http://citd.scar.utoronto.ca/Epub/1997.html). Certainly in physics and astronomy 'pure' e-pub journals with full peer-review already exist. In the biosciences, journals are appearing fast (see Conservation Ecology (Canada) and Bioline's new Biopolicy, Biosafety and Biofilm journals, as examples). The scientific advantages (hyperlinks to public domain databases - Genbank, Swissprot etc - and the use of video clips, discussion fora, mail links to researchers, suppliers databases etc) are very clear. E-pub can convert the static document into a dynamic information resource - the document becomes a gateway to a wealth of associated data.

The peer review issue was agreed in Paris, surely? Everyone present agreed it was essential and that there was no reason that this could not continue in the electronic environment. Indeed, it can take place faster and more cheaply with the electronic transfer of material. It can be retained as the present 'classic' peer-review system or move towards the Ginsparg model (in which the peer reviewing is very carefully controlled, by the way).

[2] Is the future determined solely by commercial factors?

Clearly the costs have to be addressed. But the priority for ICSU should be working towards the more equitable access to scientific data. Can e-pub add benefits to the exchange of scientific data? This is really all that matters. The new technologies give us opportunities to re-think how best to achieve this and redress the balance between the haves and have nots in the international scientific community. No doubt you are subscribed to the Prices Newsletter and read the comments of librarians and academics regarding the inexorable increase in the cost of journals, and it is clear to us that given alternative technology, something will break, and we already see these developments.

[3] Will commercial publishers cease primary publication of S&T journals?

It is difficult to say what commercial publishers will do. I suspect they will focus more on books, diversify... I do not think that their present policies of parallel e-pub, that often (though not always) costs more, that is static and non- interactive, will survive. This is just an alternative distribution mechanism for them and does not take full advantage of the capabilities of the WWW to advance science. Of course, flexibility in use by the scientific community worries the commercial publishers because of copyright issues. But as scientists, we well know that what matters to the scientific community of authors is paternity (association with the research) and the widest possible distribution. With the Bioline online-only, copyright remains with the authors, for example.

[4] Will Learned Societies continue supporting hard-copy publications if revenues fade away? Could 'page charges' contribute?

You need only look at Peter Boyce's work with astronomy journals to see how a society can change its policies and flourish. This can be seen from the WWW site given above. Societies' main concern should again be the fair and most scientifically beneficial distribution of data, and I think that over time ways will be found to do this (see Conservation Ecology, another Society journal; there is a link to this journal from the Bioline system).

Page charges (or document charges) are a very interesting option and may be the best way to recover costs. It is attractive to scientists as it is a trade-off between paying to be published v obtaining free access to the world's scientific literature and maximum visibility for their own research. We plan to discuss this with our new online-only journal editorial boards and authors to assess reaction. Of course it will require a sea-change of approach by universities/institutes and require a budget to be set aside for publication submissions.

'Guesswork calculations' suggest that with a page/document system the costs to the author's institution would be reduced. Ultimately, they would be paying, say, $5000 for a department of 50 researchers submitting 2 papers each/annum at a cost of $50/submission (if the paper is rejected the department doesn't get its money back! Incentive for increased quality..) in exchange for access to a great range of free publications and a greatly reduced purchasing budget.

This is, of course, simplistic and depends on many unknowns regarding attitudes and culture change, and probably such large changes in practices will begin with bottom-up or new journal initiatives. It would be excellent if ICSU could commission a study on the likelihood of page/document charges replacing subscriptions, working with a few not-for-profit international journals.

To summarise these thoughts, we strongly believe that electronic mechanisms have provided the tool to allow scientific information to be distributed more equitably, more cheaply and faster. Means exist to allow the scientist to retain paternity while benefitting from maximum visibility for his and his department's work. It seems to us that if you provide the tools to the international scientific community they will want to use them - and we see this happening already. More importantly, perhaps, is the great potential the WWW offers for really advancing scientific knowledge via interactive documents.

Finally, there is no mention in the revised programme of the benefits to scientists and publishers in developing countries who stand to gain greatly from the hugely increased visibility that e-pub provides. This is truly important in epidemiology, environmental studies, taxonomy and other disciplines where a global picture is critical. If this issue is raised, as we hope it will, please ask Judy Ugonna (invited to participate - dfs) to contribute. She is developing the British Council's e-pub programme for developing countries and is also familiar with the work of EPT and Bioline. She could make a very valuable contribution.

I hope these comments are useful and can be fed into any discussions where these issues are raised. Are you planning an online discussion forum on the WWW? I have copied this to Judy Ugonna and to Professor Vanderlei Canhos, our partner in Brazil.

With best wishes for a successful meeting and I am sorry not to be present,

Best regards,

Barbara -- (Barbara Kirsop -- Electronic Publishing Trust)