Kate McCain points out that there is more to starting a successful journal
(ie one to which people will submit papers and to which they will
subscribe) than just running a handful of manuscripts down to the local
printing shop, and goes on to ask why anyone would want to do this.
One reason that would justify the effort involved in starting a journal
that there is an increasing risk to scientists of publishing their work in
a journal that is not available to their colleagues. As I recall (please
correct me if I'm wrong, as "Bibliometrics R'nt Me") the average university
research library can now claim to hold only about 20% or so of the total
number of journal titles published. This means that unless you can publish
in Science or Nature or some journal to which every library subscribes, there is
a finite chance that your colleagues can't read your paper unless they go
through interlibrary loan or write for reprints or some similarly time-
consuming effort. The primary audience, people who work in the same field,
will make that effort, but the secondary audience of people who work in related
areas might not. The net effect might be a reduction in cross-fertilization
between fields, a restriction of the field of view of scientists to only
those papers that are worth the effort of retrieving.
Given that we are discussing this issue on a world-wide computer network
of increasing accessibility and scope, it seems obvious that posting articles
(including GIFs of any illustrations or graphics) to moderated newgroups
is an alternative to publishing in journals. After all, as Judd pointed out,
scientists are the authors, editors and peer-reviewers of the manuscripts,
and can publish their work in any forum that meets the need for peer-review
and peer-group recognition. There is no formal reason why the posting of an
article in a moderated newsgroup can't have the same prestige associated
with it as publishing a paper in Cell or Science, and carry the same weight
in tenure and promotion decisons.
In keeping with Ms. McCain's overview of the necessities of journal
publishing, someone would have to take the time to get an ISSN number, arrange
abstracting and indexing, and make known the fact that a new venue is
available for publication of papers on ________ (insert topic of choice here).
The issue of whether the scientific community is ready for electronic
publishing has been debated hotly of late, more by librarians and publishers
than by scientists (as far as I can tell). Maybe we should do an experiment?
The formatting and graphics quality of newsgroup postings may not be up to the
highest standards of paper publishing, but then what fraction of papers _really_
require the highest resolution graphics and the heaviest glossiest paper? I
suspect that the emphasis journal publishers place on these things is less for
the benefit of the scientists who submit papers to, and read, the journal than
to convince outside observers of the high quality of the journal, thus assuring
the publisher the advantages that Ms. McCain summarized.
Research Assistant Professor
Forest Biotechnology Group
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina 27695-8008 USA
telephone or fax (919)515-7801
e-mail rosswhet at unity.ncsu.edu