Electronic Journals in Biology -- Is it time?

Mike Cherry 726-5955 cherry at opal.mgh.harvard.edu
Thu Apr 30 14:33:00 EST 1992

In article <1992Apr29.233609.1700 at usenet.ins.cwru.edu>, bl275 at cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Dan Diaz) writes...
>A recent issue of Nature has an editorial discussing the
>inevitable movement of journals from print to electrons.  I have
>not seen any discussion of this subject on the Bionet, and
>wonder why it is that we have to wait until the publishers of
>journals decide to go electronic when those in other sciences
>have forged ahead in a grass-roots effort.
> ....
>The time has come for scientists to take control of the 
>transmission of scientific data away from greedy publishers who
>care nothing for science.  We are mature enough to deal with
>peer review our own way.  Electronic journals are not far
>away;  we can decide their future, or have someone else decide
>for us.
>Dizzy Dan

As Don pointed out in another reply to this message electronic publishing
has been discussed on bionet in the past and it these discusses do keep
reappearing. It appears to me that Dizzy Dan is raising two issues: One
about the formation of electronic journals equal in information to the
current printed journals and then the whole peer reviewed journal debate. 

I have nothing to add on the second issue except to say that it is up to
the community to decide, not just the tenure committees. I expect it will
be started as a grass roots movement and then become excepted practice to
cite significant works communicated via usenet, mailing lists or just
anonymous ftp. 

As for the first issue there is a slight technology problem. Not everyone
uses the same type of computer and not everyone is sufficently connected
to the network that they could receive large formatted word processor
files and scanned images. Obviously if you do away with the images that is
most of the problem. Just sending text is the current solution to
communicating. With the recent development of WAIS and Internet Gopher
these problems start to go away. However in either case its more a
socialogical problem than a limit of the technology. Many of you will have
experienced particular areas of research where there is a real community
feeling. These groups often have nice regular newsletters and are sharing
information electronically to some degree. These small newsletters have 
become like a journal in importance to the field.

Might I suggest that the leading edge of electronic exchange of
publication type information start with the C. elegans, Arabidopsis, or
Drosophila communities. I have been in discussions with some of the
newsletters produced in these communities and it is looking promising. This
is not all the good communities its just the few that immediately came to

If your field of research has a small journal or newsletter I suggest you
lobby them to make their publication electronic, or at least that they
submit an electronic version of their publication. All these publishers
have the text in word processors and they are typically not modivated by
the need to make money (in several cases I've seen they are supported by

Once they start submitting electronically WAIS and Gopher servers will
appear containing their publication and everyone else will start to see
the usefullness. The big publishers will then be left to play catch-up. 

Mike Cherry
cherry at frodo.mgh.harvard.edu 

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