Sam Kounaves, Tufts University: There were some questions earlier about the increasing volume of our publications. Most of us are both producers and consumers and at least in my opinion, and I don't know if it is my colleagues', the volume will not ever decrease. In fact, it is probably going to get worse, similar to grade inflation. Nobody is going to take the fast step to turn the volume down, because we use publications in tenure and so on. So, it's never going to happen.
We have some small societies that seem to have been successful in publishing their journals cheaply. I don't know if anybody has heard of the Society of Entomology—its Journal of Entomology is basically free to the members, a small group. I also belong to a small society, with about 500 or 600 members, for which I have set up a Web site and put the society newsletter on it. So I have had some experience with trying to start one, and have seen some of the problems involved with it, but on the other hand, it seems to me we may be starting afresh. We are not bound by tradition, as some of the larger societies might be, as to what we can or cannot do. Some of my colleagues don't agree with this, but I feel it is possible to publish a refereed, high-quality journal.
One of a society's missions many years ago was to gather information about members' research and disseminate it among the members. Thus, it seems it is very appropriate that the societies take a leading role in journal publishing. Libraries can be an archiving location for certain things. The societies could be an archiving source for the society publications. For, example, the ACS could be an archiving location for ACS journals. One hundred years from now the journals would still be there. Granted they might undergo several transitions in archiving media, but they would still be there and would still be archived in some format.
So, one question is, Is it not feasible for a society like ACS to take on archiving and to look at such things as page charges for authors and look at these smaller societies that seem to be doing successful publishing, like the Society of Entomology? Is ACS looking at this and is it possible to do this sort of thing?
Lorrin Garson: We are committed to archiving the ACS journals, no question about that. The issue of page charges brings back memories. The ACS has page charges in a few of its journals. These are
vestiges of a time when there were page charges in most of our journals. However, in competing with the commercial journals, which do not charge page charges, we felt we could no longer charge page charges.
There are, also, tax implications. The IRS said that if page charges are mandatory then scientific journals are advertising, and you must mark every piece of paper published in that journal, "This is an advertisement." We didn't want to do that. I don't know if the IRS has changed its position on this.
The ACS Board of Directors has said that we should eliminate all page charges, which even now are voluntary, as soon as we can. That decision was made about 15 years ago, and we are still tagging along with a small number of journals with page charges. Page charges don't seem to be a way to go as best as we can judge.
Richard Lucier: I would like to comment on the notion that small societies handle a large amount of the information that needs to be managed. I agree with you that that seems to be a reasonable way to go, but my concern is how that scales over time. What I have observed over the years with respect to the development of scientific databases is that they often start out as a "cottage industry" product. Developing the database was an interesting and innovative activity; an individual researcher/member of a society took it on for a while, but as the need for access, the importance of reliability, and changes in technology occurred, an infrastructure more robust than the "cottage industry" could provide was needed. Societies like ACS can provide some of that infrastructure. It is my belief that a federation of universities could logically provide that to groups of small societies as well. In some respects, HighWire Press is doing that in the biomedical sciences for a number of societies, providing an infrastructure that does scale. Each of those societies would have a great deal of difficulty building that infrastructure on its own.
Gary Mallard: One thing you said, Lorrin, that I would have to disagree with, concerns marketing. You actually don't have to market things. The WebBook, which gets a lot of usage, has never spent a nickel on advertisement, has never done anything, and it is a little bit like the baseball field in Iowa. If you build it, they do come, and if you build it with a reasonably high-quality product, I think they will come in droves.
Lorrin Garson: Especially if it is free.
Gary Mallard: Of course.
Robert Lichter, Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation: That gets back to the question of prestige.
Allen Bard, University of Texas: I can tell you my view. I think there are quantitative measures of it for whatever you want to look at, like impact factors, and although I don't fully agree with that, that goes along pretty much with a kind of community opinion. I know that certain departments, when they make tenure decisions, look at the list of publications, have a numerical multiplication factor, a division factor for different journals, you know, Science, Nature, JACS, and so on. So, there is, I think, a culture that believes this.
Lorrin Garson: Another factor that might play into prestige is rejection rate. Prestigious journals, shall we say, tend to have a much higher rejection rate, which probably leads to a higher quality. They publish the more high-quality material, and I think the community, certainly people who have published for any period of time, have a pretty good sense as to which journals have a high rejection rate and which don't.
Now, after you get beyond a certain point, if you are rejecting 90 percent of the papers, obviously you are rejecting a lot of good papers. You can identify the trash and the truly outstanding, but 95 percent of the material in the middle is much more difficult to judge. But yes, I think rejection rate is a factor in prestige.
Christos Georgakis, Lehigh University: I wanted to ask a question about copyright in this electronic age. Let me run you through the steps that one might take. I write a paper. I put it on my Web site and I label it “submitted for publication.” I get the reviews back. I do some editing, and of course I assign the copyright to the journal that is going to publish it, but I still leave the original copy of the paper on my Web page for people to download. Am I in conflict of the copyright?
Lorrin Garson: This is good question, but I dislike answering questions about copyright because I know just enough to be dangerous. The issue is that you owned copyright when you first created that article. The question is whether you signed over those rights to anybody. If you haven't you are not in violation of copyright. You own the copyright.
To publish in ACS journals a requirement is that you transfer copyright. At that point you would indeed be in violation of copyright because you no longer own the article. So, you would be asked to take the article down. We have a policy that if authors want to post ACS articles on their intranet, that is, for their institution, that is quite all right, but it is not allowed to post them for general access.
Others of our journals have a policy with regard to what has been posted on the Web. Some of the editors feel rather strongly that if something is on the Web it is already published. It is open to the public, and they would not consider it for publication. Other ACS editors feel that posting it on the Web is equivalent to speaking at a conference. It is not true publication. It is something in between, and they would consider it for publication. So, there are many factors that come into your question.
Gary Mallard: I would like to ask you a question, Lorrin. Do you think that that mode of thinking serves the scientific community, or does it just serve the ACS?
Lorrin Garson: Here is the problem from the publisher's standpoint. If we do not ask for copyright, for example, then let us say 5 years from now we want to do something with the collection of journals that we cannot anticipate, that means we would have to go back to all 30,000 authors per year to get permission. This is impractical, which limits the opportunities we would have.
Gary Mallard: Like what?
Lorrin Garson: I cannot imagine what we might want to do. What we have done in the past, for example, is make the journals available on the Web. Had we not owned copyright we could not have done that.
Gary Mallard: You could have been assigned copyright for that purpose though but not necessarily have owned it—copyright can be held jointly. You don't have to have exclusive copyright and as a matter of fact the ACS does not have copyright to any work by government employees. So, things get published by the ACS without the ACS holding the copyright, and it doesn't in any way restrict you from using that material. That would, I think, answer this question about whether authors can put articles up on their own Web sites, which I think a lot of people would like to do,
Jack Kay, Drexel University: I was curious about your statement that the length of the articles being published is increasing regularly. What is the explanation for that? Do you know?
Lorrin Garson: I am not sure. We haven't done a formal study. In looking at articles I see two things. One is an increasing number of references. There is more literature to reference, and authors seem to be referencing it. So, the number of references has gone up.
I think there are in some cases a lot more data to be published than there have been before just because of modern instrumentation, but these are only casual observations on my part.
Al, do you have any sense of this issue?
Allen Bard: I sense that papers now are more complex and more data intensive, and the effort we have been making in what I consider an evolutionary period is to get more of that put on the Web, in other words at least in this intermediate period to let the printed version reflect the core of an article but try to get more and more of this other stuff and supporting information onto the Web. Different communities within chemistry agree with this to different extents. That would be my best guess without any formal study.
David Smith, DuPont: As I listen to this conversation I believe there is an issue here. I look at three important transformations in this process; one is data to information, then information to knowledge, and finally knowledge to understanding. It seems to me that understanding usually ends up in textbooks, and where we are hung up in the publication game is in whether we should be publishing information or publishing knowledge.
It seems to me that it usually requires a lot of work to transform information into useful knowledge, and I submit that in some of the journals that I read, most of what gets published is information. A lot of it is probably useless information, and we are not doing a good enough job of reviewing papers to weed them out.
Allen Bard: Anybody want to address that? David, do you want to specify some journals? I tend to agree, and I think the librarians should be stronger in gauging the quality of the journals they are taking and in finding and probably not subscribing to journals that are largely of that nature.
Richard Lucier: Let me add briefly that librarians subscribe to the journals that are mandated by their faculty, and we do not feel that it is our responsibility to do that quality control, that it is really faculty's responsibility to do that.
Stephen Heller, National Institute of Standards and Technology: Full copyright is not necessary for a publisher. A license to publish, with the commercial rights to use it, is really sufficient for a publisher to earn income, and full copyright isn't needed. A committee of which I am a member wrote a policy article on this issue of copyright versus a license to publish. This group was sponsored, in pan, by the Dreyfus Foundation, and the committee, The Transition From Paper, put something in Science about 2 months ago (September 4, 1998, pages 1459-1460), and I was wondering if there are any comments from the panel members about the notion of having a license to publish and what would be insufficient (for publishers) about that?
Lorrin Garson: I think I have said enough about copyright and done all the damage I care to do! I will let the other panelists try to address this.
Gary Mallard: I am not going to touch it because we are at the other end of it. We actually are going out and getting data out of the literature. I think the risk that you run when creating an electronic database is that people may feel like you are infringing upon their copyright when you take the data out of the literature and put it into an electronic format. The whole issue of fair use, which I don't think has been addressed in any very realistic way when it comes to electronic format, is still something that may well end up in the courts. I don't know whether it is going to end up in the courts for scientific data because there is just not enough money sloshing around in scientific data, but it may well end up there for other reasons. There is this historic notion of fair use and what you can and cannot do, and I don't know where we are on that.
Richard Lucier: I think you as a community have to decide what you want to do about copyright. If you as a community decide that you are going to do what was specified in that editorial I cannot imagine that the ACS, as well as other publishers, won't continue to publish your materials. I think it is truly up to you as a community, and I would encourage you as a community to look very carefully at the recommendations that were in that editorial as being potentially desirable ones to act upon.
Randy Collard, Dow Chemical Company: Just a quick question for Lorrin. You identified in your cost analysis the database as the largest factor. As you look at the advances in technology and expertise, what do you see that is a breakthrough necessary in that area?
Lorrin Garson: I think it is likely there will be a number of small things that accumulate to provide greater efficiency, not necessarily one large piece of technology. For example, within our own environment we are getting more and more clever at writing parsers so that we can take information in various word processing packages and parse them and identify elements algorithmically. That particular piece in itself I think will lead to significant savings.
As far as technology coming down the road, it is very difficult to predict what may have a dramatic effect. Certainly as I look back over the last 20 to 25 years the issue of database publishing in itself undoubtedly has contributed very significantly to our cost containment and the ability to produce electronic products. The number of people involved with producing the electronic journals and doing quality control is two or three people. To manage all that data is a tribute to the database approach to publishing.
Robert Lichter: I would like the views from the remaining panelists about the following: Recently there has been a lot of legislative heat and not too much light about the issue of copyright, which seems to have been temporarily resolved. Do you think this issue is going to emerge again? How do you think the concept of copyright will change in light of electronic publishing?
Gary Mallard: From the point of view of someone who tries to pull information out, the European view of copyright is distinctly dangerous, I think, because in effect where the European Community is heading is basically that you can copyright the telephone book. If that becomes the case, it seems to me that you are a very small step away from copyrighting the boiling point of methane, and certainly American law has said that you cannot copyright the boiling point of methane. I don't know where this issue is going—you can argue that the current law that was just passed by Congress and signed comes very close. If you have put the boiling point of methane into a compilation, then it has the potential to be copyrighted. I think it is extraordinarily dangerous for our ability to deliver scientific information economically.
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