View Full Version : Scholarly publications better in electronic form


Bob Russell
04-27-2006, 10:48 AM
Got your thinking cap on, and ready to be an "academic" for a moment? Well, if you are looking for content in professional journals, you probably know by now that it's all about the availability and searchability. But not completely, because it's also nice to hold reasearch papers in your hands. Something about the personal contact and easy to read pages that's nice when you are going to spend that much time with a document. Unless you are really a whiz, and you can read the average professional journal in less than 10 minutes. Somehow, I don't even think Nobel prize winners do that.

So the question raised back in 2000 by David Goodman of the Princeton University Biology Library is whether or not the library should continue to keep bound paper copies of their journals. In fact, he even goes further and asked what journals should even be physically printed. The presentation (http://dlist.sir.arizona.edu/1107/01/What%5Fjls%5Fprinted%5FNOL%5F00.doc) has just recently been made available to us, and is pretty interesting. Due to the special nature of scientific research activities, he makes the remarkable (for 2000) statement, "Rather than considering whether e-journals are desirable or not, I am assuming they are generally preferable, and am considering whether the basic mode of production for almost all scholarly scientific journals is to be electronic only, except for special purposes or temporary accommodation."

For more of this peek into the academic world of electronic content, visit dLIST (http://dlist.sir.arizona.edu/1107/).

Panurge
11-07-2007, 01:21 AM
I just ran across your post from several months ago. The scientific community caught on to this very soon because it had been using computers and the Internet routinely for much longer than others in the academic world.
There's another side to this business, however, and I thought that as a librarian I might point it out.
In the humanities most scholarly publication is subsidized by the universities themselves in the form of free editorial labor and academic presses, which are expected to break even but not necessarily to turn a profit.
Around the beginning of the 20th century, the scientific community elected to consign its scholarly journals to trade publishers. As a result, those journals are incredibly expensive, because commercial publishers do want to make a profit. By 2000 it was clear that the whole enterprise was getting out of hand; furthermore, many of the scientific papers published in the official journals were delayed more and more and made less and less useful to those who needed to read them. As a result, scientists started posting drafts of their articles on the Internet while they waited for the journals to get around to distributing them in printed volumes. Right now there is a full-scale revolt and a call to abandon the trade publishers altogether. It's an interesting phenomenon, and those of us stuck in the transitional stages of this shift in scholarly publishing often have to make difficult decisions about budgets and storage. That is exactly where I am right now. I am putting an enormous group of scientific journals--all of which are now available online--into storage. The question is how long can we afford to keep them at all.
Transitions are never easy; this one is a dilly. I'm on the side of the electronic version (obviously, or I wouldn't be writing this), but that doesn't ease my responsibility towards making sure we don't act precipitously in the meantime.

nekokami
11-07-2007, 10:53 AM
Print is such a stable medium that I suppose it would be nice to know that the articles are archived somewhere in print, preferably several places. But it's so much easier to find and transport electronic articles that it's hard to imagine why we'd want to continue to take up library storage space with paper copies of black and white mostly text documents.

Maybe there could be some kind of distributed archive system where institutions agree among themselves about which paper "backups" will be stored where?

Patricia
11-07-2007, 05:05 PM
I like being able to access journals via Jstor from home. Also my university library subscribes to a number of journals in electronic versions, so as to save space on the shelves.
But there is one major problem. If we cancel the subscription to a printed journal then we still have the paper copies on the library shelves. If we cancel the electronic subscription then we are ****ed: the entire run vanishes.
Moreover, publishers are making it harder to alter electronic subscriptions because they tend to bundle essential journals with less valuable ones, so we can't cancel just one subscription when our needs change.

kovidgoyal
11-07-2007, 05:40 PM
In my field (physics) people have moved almost entirely to using pre-prints. I never lookup up a journal article for current research any more. Indeed, I treat journals simply as organizations that administer the refreeing process (which is completely ridiculous since the actual work of refreeing is done free by scientists).

bowerbird
11-07-2007, 05:50 PM
nekokami said:
> Maybe there could be some kind of
> distributed archive system where
> institutions agree among themselves about
> which paper "backups" will be stored where?

seems like a pretty obvious answer, doesn't it?

yet, as far as i can tell, correct me if i'm wrong,
please!, because i would _love_ to be wrong, but
apparently, librarians are completely incapable of
thinking collectively. it's every library for itself...

so, as far as i know, just to give you one example,
books from the michigan library that google scans
will be hosted by michigan. and the stanford scans
will be hosted by stanford. and the harvard scans
will be hosted by harvard, and on and on and on...

is that massively stupid, or what?

stop the "my library is bigger than your library"
madness, you idiotic institutions of higher learning.
pool your scans into a cyberlibrary that all of you
-- and the rest of the world -- has access to...

or be regarded as fools...

-bowerbird

NatCh
11-07-2007, 06:03 PM
so, as far as i know, just to give you one example,
books from the michigan library that google scans
will be hosted by michigan. and the stanford scans
will be hosted by stanford. and the harvard scans
will be hosted by harvard, and on and on and on...

is that massively stupid, or what?It may be recognition that to share the without express permission would, in many cases, be a violation of copyrights.

I'm not prepared to assume that they are all in a position to undertake securing that permission. :shrug:

bowerbird
11-07-2007, 06:12 PM
no, i was talking about the public-domain stuff there.
no one is letting out any of the copyrighted stuff yet...

-bowerbird

Panurge
11-08-2007, 12:25 AM
Actually, some of these problems have already been addressed--or rather, are starting to be addressed. The scientific community has certain means of ascertaining whether or not claimed results (in an article, I mean) are replicable; refereeing can therefore be untethered in some degree from official controls such as are represented by the journals. Things are not so clear-cut in the humanities, unfortunately.

Some libraries, which these days tend to cooperate under the umbrella of the consortium, have joined together to share storage space and costs and arranged to archive print materials jointly. This makes sense: rather than throw everything away or have each library try to save everything, the conjoined institutions identify what needs to be preserved and contribute to a single facility, making sure that a couple or three copies of each book provide some redundancy. Then individual libraries can safely dispose of their own copies in the knowledge that at least one or more will always be available.

JSTOR promises its members a backup copy of everything (in whatever electronic storage medium proves to be current in the future) should the organization, which is not-for-profit, ever cease to exist. An allied organization, called Portico, is now actively archiving electronic materials--especially those journals and other publications that have never been published in print form--and guaranteeing access to them should that become necessary. Individual libraries contribute an annual fee to help fund it (since it, too, is not-for-profit); therefore, it is more or less a form of insurance for libraries' electronic collections. There has been some encouraging progress on this front recently, so there is no need to despair for the future.

kovidgoyal
11-08-2007, 12:39 AM
We'd still need some sort of organization for selecting referees anonymously.

Panurge
11-08-2007, 12:59 AM
Yes, of course, you're right. In the academic world so-called "publish or perish" policies have somewhat sustained the system. Publication there has long been regarded as part of the job and its aura. The expense of paper publishing helped keep out the pretenders to authority (though not always). I'm wondering what kind of conditions will have to be met in order to reinvent the journal referee system, though I realize that there have been efforts recently to implement it for electronic publication.

kovidgoyal
11-08-2007, 04:14 AM
One model is that of the so called open-access journal, where articles are made available online for free and fixed costs are supported by ads and by charging relatively high fees to prospective authors who submit articles for review.

nekokami
11-08-2007, 01:31 PM
One model is that of the so called open-access journal, where articles are made available online for free and fixed costs are supported by ads and by charging relatively high fees to prospective authors who submit articles for review.
Wouldn't charging the authors fees tend to discourage sharing research?

I'd like to see a kind of linked reputation system that could be used across sites. Example: Kovidgoyal writes an article and submits it to an online repository. Yvan reviews the article and thinks it's quite good, and rates it. I have a high respect for Yvan's ability to rate such articles, and I've configured that in my article-searching account, so Kovidgoyal's article starts to percolate to the top of my review list. (It's not necessary that I know Yvan's identity for this to work.) Then NatCh reviews the article, and he has some criticisms about some aspect of the analysis. NatCh is also on my reviewer's list, and the article sinks a bit. (Meanwhile, our favorite hack author, Joe Blowhard, reviews the article and completely pans it, but my review tracking system ignores his rating completely, despite the incomprehensible fact that many other people in the system have rated his reviews highly, because I think he's full of hot air and I've removed him from my reviewer list.)

A "journal" in this case could consist of a site run by a specific editor, who picks reviewers to rely on for a particular topic, and selects articles from the results, offering a hand-picked list. Editors could also get reviews and ratings in such a system.

I'm pretty sure this would work for fiction, but I'm still thinking through how it could work academically.

bowerbird
11-08-2007, 03:14 PM
nekokami, you are talking about "collaborative filtering"...
and yes, it is _the_ answer for the issue of peer review...
it's also the answer for finding _any_ needle in the haystack
of cyberspace, whether it be books, movies, music, websites,
or general thoughts and ideas...

-bowerbird

p.s. i'm not under the impression most open access journals
charge authors to pay to submit, even if a few of 'em might...

kovidgoyal
11-08-2007, 04:26 PM
@nekokami
The problem with that system is that it is not anonymous. In the academic world that's a problem because someday you might be asked to review a paper written by somebody you might want to work for. Also (debatably), people tend to be more honest in anonymous reviews.

I agree that paying for the article is a problem, but what typically happens is that institutions make a bulk deal with the journal so their members dont have to pay. It works out cheaper for the institutions than subscriptions and also if you're an individual author, you can reduce the amount you pay by reviewing other papers for the journal. Of course this all only works for established professionals in the field.

Incidentally, Natch how dare you criticize my work! ;-)

DaleDe
11-08-2007, 05:00 PM
@nekokami

Incidentally, Natch how dare you criticize my work! ;-)

Leave out the nose to get the built-in smileys to work properly. ;)

Dale

nekokami
11-08-2007, 05:46 PM
I agree that paying for the article is a problem, but what typically happens is that institutions make a bulk deal with the journal so their members dont have to pay. It works out cheaper for the institutions than subscriptions and also if you're an individual author, you can reduce the amount you pay by reviewing other papers for the journal. Of course this all only works for established professionals in the field.
Ok, that makes sense. (And those who aren't part of such an institution have a pretty hard time getting accepted in more traditional journals, I think, so no big difference in access.)

Incidentally, Natch how dare you criticize my work! ;-)
I knew I was in trouble for using real names! But remember, you can update your work to explain why NatCh's concerns about your analysis were addressed in your research design, and then NatCh can change his review. ;)

Which means, of course, that such a system needs revision tracking, as well.

Re: anonymity: I think the identities of the reviewers can still be hidden in the kind of system I'm describing, as long as there are multiple reviewers in someone's profile. But the identity of the author of the article prior to the review could probably not easily be hidden, and that could be a problem due to the "halo" effect.

kovidgoyal
11-08-2007, 05:51 PM
I still feel that some sort of non profit organization that does the matching of papers with anonymous referees and hosts electronic copies in perpetuity is the ideal solution.

I have no idea how we would go about setting up such an organization though.

Xenophon
11-08-2007, 10:48 PM
I still feel that some sort of non profit organization that does the matching of papers with anonymous referees and hosts electronic copies in perpetuity is the ideal solution.

I have no idea how we would go about setting up such an organization though.
In Computer Science, that organization would be the ACM (and sometimes IEEE). For those of you who don't already know, the CS Journals tend to be 'archival' in nature -- interesting new work shows up at the major conferences (not in the journals), and the journals get the wrap-up-the-research-project summary/retrospective papers.

So the referees for the big conferences serve the role you are looking for. And ACM and IEEE have their digital libraries, with electronic copies in perpetuity. The only downside is the flat-fee for access to the library each year.

Xenophon

kovidgoyal
11-09-2007, 12:08 AM
Interesting. But how does a referee for a conference judge the quality/veracity of some work if he has (presumably) only access to a summary of it? And do the journals automatically accept work that has been presented or does it go through another round of refreeing?

NatCh
11-09-2007, 12:18 AM
Geez, I get on an airplane, and you lot start taking my name in vain -- I thought I felt my ears burning over Little Rock! :rofl:

Panurge
11-09-2007, 12:29 AM
There have been many models for scholarly publishing in the past, including the charging of fees for publishing. In the German-speaking world, it is customary for one to pay to have a doctoral thesis published, along with an Habilitationswerk. The Anglo-Saxon world hasn't followed suit. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. In the meantime established professionals are going to be--in fact, already are--seeking alternative solutions to the traditional arrangement. In the academic world, publication practice is powerfully influenced by the tenure and promotion system, but it is also simply part of participating in professional activities. Some of it is purely sociological. Over time, I'm sure that we'll evolve some satisfactory collective solutions, as the discussion so far has already suggested.

nekokami
11-09-2007, 10:41 AM
I still feel that some sort of non profit organization that does the matching of papers with anonymous referees and hosts electronic copies in perpetuity is the ideal solution.
You're right, because otherwise the reviewers have no idea which papers to review. Except in the cases noted above, when papers have been presented at a conference. I don't think this is incompatible with the kind of review system I was describing, but it is an additional requirement of the overall system of disseminating scholarly work.

bowerbird
11-09-2007, 01:27 PM
ok, i get the impression this is just idle chatter...

so i apologize for assuming earlier it was serious.
i still don't seem to be too good at tuning in to the
prevailing attitudes on these mobileread forums...

for those who would actually like to learn more
about the movement toward open-access journals,
however, i suggest peter suber's blog as a start:
> http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/fosblog.html

or, if you prefer, just chat. that's entertaining too...

-bowerbird

HarryT
11-09-2007, 02:25 PM
You're right, because otherwise the reviewers have no idea which papers to review. Except in the cases noted above, when papers have been presented at a conference. I don't think this is incompatible with the kind of review system I was describing, but it is an additional requirement of the overall system of disseminating scholarly work.

Anonymous review is absolutely vital for scientific journals. It's the whole basis of the system by which journal article are impartially reviewed.

kovidgoyal
11-09-2007, 02:30 PM
@bowerbird
Here's what you should have said:

"
I see that some of you are interested in the issue of open access journals. Here's a link to a good resource for information on them.
http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm
"

Stop worrying about proving how clever you are.

kovidgoyal
11-09-2007, 02:31 PM
Anonymous review is absolutely vital for scientific journals. It's the whole basis of the system by which journal article are impartially reviewed.

I've often thought that article review should be doubly anonymous. i.e. when they are sent to the referee author information should be removed. I've never understood why that's not done.

HarryT
11-09-2007, 02:36 PM
That's a very interesting point, Kovid. In the days when papers were just that - paper - I suppose there might have been practical difficulties, but there shouldn't be now virtually all article submission is electronic. I don't know why the anonymity isn't two way: I could speculate that it's because part of the reviewer's thought process in assessing the credibility of the work may be based on the reputation of the author(s) in their field - one would naturally give greater weight to work done by an acknowledged expert rather than a total unknown. What do you think?

kovidgoyal
11-09-2007, 02:40 PM
It's true, the reputation of the author definitely plays a part in the review process. Certainly, it does when I'm reviewing. However, I think that it shouldn't. Ideally, a referee is supposed to judge the merit of a paper on its own. Indeed, being overawed by the reputation of the authors can lead to problems, since there is no reason why famous people can't make mistakes.

EDIT: In fact, it should be the job of the editor to worry about the reputation of the author when deciding whether to accept an article based on the referee reports or not.

nekokami
11-09-2007, 03:14 PM
That's what I was thinking; the author's reputation shouldn't play a part in the reviewing process. That really does require an editor, though, who remains aware of everyone's identity.