Electrons vs paper WAS Re: Peer Review Dephasing

Ian Musgrave Ian.Musgrave at med.monash.edu.au
Mon Jun 3 20:14:38 EST 1996

G'Day All

provider at netaxs.com (David W. Bradley, Ph.D.) writes:
>From: provider at netaxs.com (David W. Bradley, Ph.D.)
>Subject: Re: Peer Review Dephasing
>Date: Fri, 31 May 1996 13:46:47 -0400

>In article <Ian.Musgrave.568.31AEA067 at med.monash.edu.au>,
>Ian.Musgrave at med.monash.edu.au (Ian Musgrave) wrote:

>>>In fact, someday we may be able to
>>>access the original data - not just a facsimile - as more data is encoded
>>>electronically.  (example: scanning gel readers)
>>The gel is the original data, not the scan. 

>I was refering to scanners which read directly from the isotopes on a
>gel.  This scanned image is basically the same as an Xray film, which is
>considered primary data.
Ah, ha. However, most gel scanners don't work this way.

>>How many 20 year old journals can you read? All of them

>How many 200 year old journals can you read or do you have access to? Very few.
Well, here in Melbourne we don't have that many 200 year old journals, but I 
have had occasion to seek and use 100 year old journals, and I have to use 
20-30 year old journals semi-regularly. But what exactly is your point? There 
exists 200 year old print journals which people access. No current digital 
media will last 100 years, even excluding problems of file format (caveat, I 
THINK gold plated CDROMS might possibly last up to 100 years and be playable, 
but I don't know for sure).

>>How many 20 year old diskettes? Damn few (assuming you could actually FIND 
>>a device that could read them), and if you could access the disks, could you
>>read the file format?

>Just like printed journals, electronic journals have to be maintained. I'm
>not suggesting electronic journals be kept on 20 year old disks.  I don't
>even think disks go back that far.
They do. I think they were 8 and a half inches, holding a whopping 125k. But 
you illustrate my point that digital storage media change with frightening 
rapidity. I have my original BASIC programs on paper tape, the 20 year old 
tape is in perfect condition, but where the hell am I going to find a paper 
tape reader? I have a range of documents on 10 year old 5 and a bit
floppies, most of the lab computers don't have the 5 and a bit drives any 
more. This example is from the PC world, but mainframes have the same 
problems. So every 5 years or so, you will copy the entire contents of your 
archives onto new media? What is the cost involved? For printed works, serious 
conservation is only considered from 50-100 years. And what about file format? 
Most file formats are not compatible, what happens when the reader software 
goes the way of all flesh? Maybe everyone will standardise on adobe acrobat 
(great resolution but an enormous pain in the bottom for us folks in the real 
world of less-than-pentiums outside the US). But what happens in 5 years, 10, 
15. I can still read my 100 year old journals, in 100 years will people be 
able to read adobe acrobat format? Maybe they will, but if the hsitory of 
computer technology is anything to go by, I wouldn't bet serious money on it.

>Universal standards are being adapted.  There's always going to be
>conversion problems, but consider for a moment how much easier converting
>data is now as compared to 10 years ago.  The popularity of the WWW
>clearly demonstrates how standards facilitate the exchange of
>information.  The bottom line is, if you've produced something worth
>reading, it will be available.
I'll believe it when I see it. In an industry where major players cannot get 
the windows version of their product to properly read the DOS version files of 
the identical release, I'm going to take some convincing. The popularity of 
the web has bought some standards, but there's still a lot fo incompatibility 
on the web. The apparent unformity is due to almost every one using Netscape, 
try another browser and see what happens.

>>Paper has its drawbacks, but digital media has a LOT of problems as a long 
>>term archive material (that goes for both optical and magnetic storage 
>>metrials). If you want to place bets on which format you will be able to read 
>>in 50-100 years time, I place my bet on paper.
>Your choice!  Thanks for discussing this issue.
Don't get me wrong, I think digital media has great potential. You can't watch 
real time videos of calcium transients in identfied neurons on paper, or 
rotate 3D structures. But people are getting carried away with the hype and 
not thinking the issues through (real time videos are great, but the boring, 
black and white qunatitative data are often more important). I see digital 
media as complimenting print, but a lot more though is going to have to go 
into the hows and whys of digital media.

>One last point: perhaps the critical problem is not upgrading electronic
>information to the new formats, maybe the critical problem is finding the
>information you need.
If you can't read it, finding it won't help you. Finding information (print or 
otherwise) is another cooking vessel of piscines.

>-Dave Bradley

Cheers! Ian

Ian Musgrave Ph.D, Prince Henry's Institute of Medical Research
PO Box 5152, Clayton 3168, Australia.
Phone +61 3 550 4286 FAX +61 3 550 6125
Lab: Ian.Musgrave at med.monash.edu.au <http://www.mmcc.monash.edu.au/~ian-mu/>
Private: Reynella at werple.mira.net.au <http://werple.mira.net.au/~reynella/>

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