Do chemists have adequate access to the quantity and quality of journals they need? Participants looked at the situation for developing countries, students, industry, and chemistry in general, and at the unique publishing approach of the Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.
THE DEVELOPING WORLD
The number of people around the world who have access to content on the web has increased in the last few years. Because the content of almost all scientific publishers, whether society or commercial is available on the Internet, Robert Bovenschulte pointed out. “Everyone is publishing the material on the web a short time after the authors have submitted final corrections,” he said.
Licenses have also increased access, Bovenschulte said. The ACS embarked on licensing arrangements around the world—for example, with some 80 institutions in China. The ACS is starting experiments providing access to developing countries that do not have the financial means to pay for the content.
There still may be financial barriers to access, however. Bovenschulte estimated that 30 percent of potential users worldwide of the full text of American Chemical Society journals cannot access them today because their institutions cannot afford the fees. He added that he has seen such rapid progress in expanding availability in the past few years that he believed the number would come down. In looking only at the number of scientists who are very actively working at the higher levels of research in a given field, those who lack full access might be lower. He added that given the arrangements that ACS has throughout the world—all of Brazil has a consortium arrangement—virtually everyone who needs access to ACS journals has it, because of the spread of the consortia arrangements.
Yet even these numbers are too low for some authors. Stevan Harnad said that from the author’s point of view, they are losing potential impact by not reaching out to readers who lack access; he thinks that the ACS should adopt a policy that would welcome the authors’ making their own articles available on-line to would-be users for free.
According to Bridget Coughlin, PNAS access is free to developing countries that are working on building their scientific infrastructure, including China, Mexico, all of Latin America, and Africa. She said that PNAS participates in the American Chemical Society’s Bookshare program, as well as eIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries), HINARI (Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative), and other initiatives to distribute electronic scientific information globally.
Small universities and undergraduate institutions may have problems accessing some journals, whereas larger universities with bigger budgets appear to have enough access. Christopher Reed said he is at an institution that has an adequate library budget; the journals are not too expensive for him and they are quite accessible. “But I think that is only because I am at a big institution that really can afford to pay,” he said. He added he would like to see the literature free anywhere, at any computer terminal, any time, in the world.
There is much at stake for chemistry as a discipline. There is concern about the ability to find information. People should be able to access the information that has been created to maintain the health of chemistry as a discipline, Grace Baysinger said. Young scientists are the seed corn of the profession, Reed said. They see it as a noble, vibrant, and important discipline. “We must make access available to
them, instead of getting caught up in all this market stuff that is preventing it,” Reed said.
Publishers offer special packages to universities. The American Chemical Society recognizes the financial plight of some needy institutions. ACS offers educational packages, journals at a lower cost. Other institutions such as California State Fullerton or Williams College reduced their number of chemistry journals from 70-80 in 1990 to 60 in 2000, Michael Doyle said. However, there are also institutions like Ohio Wesleyan and other very small institutions that may have only 15 journals which they are struggling to maintain. He said one size does not fit all. There are some very high quality undergraduate institutions that spend much more than others on their library budget, have much greater access to instrumentation and hold funded research grants. There are other institutions that are struggling desperately.
Some workshop participants saw parallels between developing countries and poor universities. Doyle compared the plight of predominantly undergraduate institutions to the different tiers of developing countries. Some are doing very well and have more than a billion dollars for a small number of students, he said. Others are really very poor. “If you don’t have access to certain journals, you can’t remain very current,” he said. If a student or researcher has to go a hundred miles to reach the nearest institution with a major library, that is a limitation. The pricing of journals impacts how this community reacts and will shape the educational well-being of the students.
CHEMISTS AND CHEMICAL ENGINEERS
After looking at developing countries, and educational institutions, the participants discussed whether chemists and chemical engineers had adequate access to literature.
Access (via subscription or otherwise) was generally considered sufficient by many of the workshop participants. Today’s chemists have more access to more content and functionality than ever before, Patrick Jackson said. The term “gray literature” is being used to mean those journals that are not on-line. Many believe that publishers who have not made their journals electronic may be marginalizing their content. Print has limited accessibility, and this favors going to completely electronic media, Gordon Hammes said. Usage and access to the literature have never been greater, according to Peter Gregory. Increasing access to scientific information is crucial. The Royal Society is very much dedicated to this and is open to as many ways of doing it as possible, Gregory said.
Yet not all access situations are ideal. Many readers cannot view all the research they want when they want it. Clinical medical research studies are one example, and Martin Apple said he does not think it is justifiable to keep them withheld. Ulrich Pöschl said that the Elsevier slogan “access equals impact equals value” is flawed. He said you must multiply impact by quality to get value.
Access to data may be crucial in the future. Apple said that the scientific community should pay a lot more attention to the availability of data, even more so than to journal access. A responsible scientific society should not charge for its archives. Free archives would cover most accessibility questions. The scientific community “can’t live without data and we can’t live without access to data, and I think this is something that we really need to pay a lot more attention to,” Stephen Berry added.
Access for industry scientists was also deemed sufficient. Chemists and chemical engineers are getting the needed access at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Lou Ann Di Nallo said. Return-on-investment clearly drives resource allocations, and there is a big focus on how money is spent in the industry library. This means that increasing prices might lead companies to further limit access to some journals in the future.
The Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Ulrich Pöschl talked about the Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, an on-line open-access journal that ensures quality through interactive peer review and public discussion with a two-stage publication process. In Pöschl’s opinion, open-access publishing can and will substantially improve scientific communication and quality assurance. The Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics was launched three years ago. Pöschl’s focus is on the improvement of scientific quality assurance. The shortcomings in the closed peer-review process are twofold. Critical messages are watered down, and the review process presents an opportunity for hidden plagiarism. Although traditional peer review works very well in many instances, very valuable comments made by the referees are lost. This leads to a decrease of scientific discussion in traditional journals.
There are two conflicting needs in publishing: (1) rapid publication and (2) thorough review and discussion. Pöschl explained that a two-stage publication process with full traditional peer review can meet both of these needs. In this process, what Pöschl calls a discussion paper is published rapidly, a kind of upgrade preprint. If the paper merits review, it undergoes full peer review and public discussion, and referees publish their comments alongside the paper, anonymously if they want to. Additional comments from interested colleagues are also published on the Internet, the discussion is closed, and the peer review is completed, at which stage a paper can still be rejected; then a final revised paper results, as in a traditional journal. This can be done in ten days to eight weeks, after which traditional peer review and final publication take three to six months.
Authors, referees, and readers gain from this model, Pöschl said. The discussion paper offers free speech and rapid publication to the authors. Interactive peer review and public discussion allow direct feedback and public recognition of high-quality papers. There is less time for obstruction
and plagiarism. Critical comments, controversial arguments, and both scientific flaws and controversial innovations are documented in the discussion paper, Pöschl said. He added that public discussion deters careless and useless papers. The journal is fully covered by ISI and Chemical Abstracts Service from the first paper on, and it publishes 300 papers per year. Submission rates are increasing at about 20 papers per month; the rejection rate is 10 percent. The impact factor is 2.3, which is among the highest-quality atmospheric science journals. The journal is first among atmospheric science journals in the immediacy index, a measure of how many papers are cited in the year they are published.
Pöschl talked about some statistics of the discussion forums. There are about four comments per paper on average, most of which are actually refereed comments and author responses. One in four papers is additionally commented on; for traditional papers, the number is one in a hundred. The possibility of public comment is a motivation to turn in a good paper, and results in a low rejection rate. Public comments have to be signed with the commentator’s name. Although some comments are harsh, there has not been a case of personal offense. The comments, from both the public and the referees, are archived and fully citable. The second journal based on this model has been published, Biogeosciences. The page charge is 20 euros per page. Single issues are printed on demand and sold for 6 euros per issue.
Pöschl said that publishing on traditional preprint servers and then in traditional journals is less than optimal because the opportunity for discussion is lost. An idea for the future might be to split the papers into different categories of different scientific value. His model could be an intermediate between the traditional journal and full open access. His ultimate vision is open-access publishing, peer review and discussion to obtain better and fewer papers, but he aims for more than preprint self-archiving and impact. “I want to see improved scientific quality, and for this I need open access with interactive means of the Internet, interactive discussion,” he said.
There is a relationship to the physics archive, since it is possible to print comments on papers in the physics archive; the comments appear to be regular and are linked to the other papers, Martin Blume said. He added that all versions of the papers are retained in the archive.