Larry Hunter hunter at nlm.nih.gov
Tue Aug 7 10:23:45 EST 1990

   Peter Karp (pkarp at ncbi.nlm.nih.gov):

   I would be interested to hear a summary of Patricia Morgan's (from
   Science) comments, particularly since we don't have a hardcopy
   abstract from her.  My recollection is that she offered two arguments
   against the viability of electronic publication: current electronic
   publishing cannot handle the halftones needed to publish photographs,
   and the process is simply too expensive for current libraries to

   It occurs to me that probably less than 5% of the papers in any
   computer science journal (except for computer vision) contain
   photographs, so the importance of the first argument is probably
   discipline dependent.  Also, when I mentioned the second argument
   to a friend they commented, "who needs libraries anyway?".  That is,
   we could have direct distribution from publishers to readers. 


Another interesting point that Morgan made was that the feasibility of
electronic distribution of a scientific journal depends crucially on
the cost of receiving equipment.  For the most part, only computer
scientists have machines that provide better than 80 char x 24 line
screens.  I would have a hard time reading a journal distributed that
way (let alone trying to include even simple figures).  This situation
is changing (slowly) with the aquisition of Macs and Suns by nonCS
scientists, but this is precisely Morgan's point: it costs potential
readers ~10k to get the equipment.  (Yes, of course you can do a lot
more with a Sun or a Mac than read an electronic journal, but you have
to pay for all the capabilities at once.)  The cost is also relevant
in light of Chris Field's comments about our responsibility to
scientists in less developed countries.

I'd like to mention another interesting point that was raised in the
discussion phase of that panel.  Electronic "journals" don't have to
be like current paper ones.  I'd point to two examples: First is the
combination of Current Contents (and similar services) with the
ability to rapidly receive xeroxes of articles at reasonable cost.  I
can scan bibliogaphic databases, electronic tables of contents, etc.
and just get the articles I want from many journals.  While I enjoy
reading most of (say) Science, I get less out of many more specialized
journals, even though they regularly carry articles that I want to
read.  This hybrid or electronic browsing plus paper delivery is very
attractive (one could even imagine higher resolution fax delivery).
Services along these lines are just getting established, and I suspect
they may be quite successful.  Another alternative to traditional
publication can be found in the usenet newsgroup sci.psychology.digest
(known as PSYCOLOQUY on the bitnet listserver).  This group is edited
by Stephan Harnad, the editor of Behaviorial and Brain Sciences, a
peer commentary journal.  This mode (target article ~30 pages + about
20 short peer comments + author response to the commentaries) lends
itself well to an multidisciplinary, complex field, and has translated
reasonably well to the world of bboards.  Traffic has been a little on
the slow side, but the quality of the squibs and commentaries has been
pretty high.


Lawrence Hunter, PhD.
National Library of Medicine
Bldg. 38A, MS-54
Bethesda. MD 20894
(301) 496-9300
(301) 496-0673 (fax)
hunter at nlm.nih.gov (internet)
hunter%nlm.nih.gov at nihcu (bitnet/earn)

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