electronic publishing

Peter Karp pkarp at NCBI.NLM.NIH.GOV
Tue Aug 7 13:07:53 EST 1990

I must thank Bob for pointing out some ambiguities in my posting
regarding electronic publishing.  Actually Bob, I don't think my
message contained any false assertions, only a lack of detail that
when interpreted in particular ways could easily yield false
propositions.  Believe it or not, I as a computer scientist actually
prefer to read scientific articles in paper form (for asthetic reasons
that I can't quite put my finger on), and my reason for asking others
to summarize Morgan's arguments is that I found it very interesting to
hear the perspective of a publishing professional who had actually
looked into the problem.

To elaborate on the question of postscript as a graphics standard, I
took Morgan's comments at the meeting to mean that she didn't believe
that there existed a *technical* solution to the problem of specifying
graphics within documents -- Postscript is clearly such a solution.  I
think the question of whether Postscript constitutes an adequate
*standard* for specifying graphics is an open question.  Sure, I've
also had trouble FTPing Postscript documents around the Internet, but
this is not proof that someone can't sit down and write a standard for
a "Universal Postscript" that most printers should be able to handle.
I simply don't believe that there is a major problem in specifying
graphics within documents.  As I wrote earlier, halftones do appear
to represent an important problem for many disciplines.

Yes, it's true that not everyone has a Postscript printer; I 
certainly wouldn't argue that we can install worldwide electronic
publishing tomorrow.  When the first television stations started
broadcasting not everyone owned a TV; we should expect that it
will take time for new technology to come into widespread use.

My "who needs libraries" comment was not meant to imply that we should
close all libraries tomorrow -- sorry for being so flip here.  I was
simply implying that we should expect new technologies to create new
patterns of useage.  Morgan seemed to expect that libraries would
serve as the distribution point for electronically-published
documents, but in the future this may not be the case.  The person I
talked to was implying that the right now the computer science
community has adequate technology in place to simply circumvent
libraries for the distribution phase -- and perhaps even for the
archival of future computer science publications if they will all fit
on a few dozen CD ROMs.  I quite agree that the biology community does
not have this technology in place now, and that conversion of existing
documents would be problematic.

My overall conclusion is not that we should expect electronic
publishing to be feasible for all types of documents in all
disciplines tomorrow, nor that we should close down all University
libraries tomorrow.  That is, I'm not the boundless optimist that my
first message may have implied.  However, I'm also not the bounded
pessimist that I concluded Morgan is.  Although I believe Morgan and
Robbins have both identified many important problems that are
impossible for us to solve in the short term, I believe that there are
a substantial number of problems that we can solve in the short term;
we shouldn't let the existence of some hard problems deter us from
forging ahead on the easy ones.


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