Joint ICSU Press/UNESCO Expert Conference on
Electronic Publishing in Science
UNESCO, Paris, 19-23 February 1996

Options for the Future

Arnoud de Kemp

Being in Paris

Being in Paris reminds me of the very origins of journal publishing. It was here, and in London, in 1665 that the first two journals were published:


Today there exist well over 90,000 journals and far more serial publications. There is no library in the world that can claim to have them all. In spite of mergers, marriages, etc. the number of new titles is still on the increase and we have done little for their accessibility and retrievability. Every 15 years the total paper output doubles. Even the abstracting and indexing services are not able to help very much any more. Little wonder, then, that in these days of information technology (IT) and electronic publishing (EP), more and more people are hoping that we can solve these problems digitally.

But do we realize that we are creating a media gap? A gap between the words of conversation and conservation itself? This calls for action and coordination and we should try to optimize all the new challenges and not block any new means of information, communication and documentation. Publishing has always been a documentation activity: producing, as we call it nowadays, "frozen information". In the foreseeable future we will deal with frozen, or static, as well as dynamic information and we have to find ways to cope with a new and hybrid information environment.

About this Conference

I think we should congratulate the Organizers of this meeting. Although they claim that it has taken an awful long time to prepare for the conference, the fact alone that they were able to bring together so many experts on such a variety of topics, is something that we should applaud. I learned a great deal during these three days and I met many very interesting people. The atmosphere was excellent and we all enjoyed a very open-minded approach. I think that everybody involved (the players, the intermediaries and the users) wanted to contribute, since we are all in the same boat and nobody really knows what lies ahead of us.

What was missing?

Almost everybody has referred to the overrepresentation of physicists. I missed the presence of the biological sciences, to some extent chemistry, and much more so mathematics, medicine and all of the humanities and social sciences. I missed the abstracting and indexing community and the awareness services. The role of monographs, textbooks, secondary and tertiary publications was hardly discussed. Grey literature (which deserves its own meeting) was not in evidence. The financial role of advertising in some disciplines was barely touched upon. And on the whole I felt that issues like availability, accessibility and retrievability should have received more attention, especially with regard to the developing countries and young people. Standards were mentioned as being important, but they deserved more attention than they were given. Instruction and training were discussed.

This list looks very negative. Perhaps it is, but we should now concentrate on everything that we have gained from this conference, and that is a good deal.

Summarizing, I would say that we have been discussing the publishing activities around unsolicited papers offered for publication in scientific journals and their electronic equivalents and some primary repositories by a rapidly growing scientific community to a wide variety of publishers. Publishers can be learned societies, university presses, institutions, governments, and privately and publicly owned companies. They all are part of the communication process, a process which involves many specialists and is time- and cost-intensive. It may look old-fashioned to some, but it is well organized thanks to a long tradition, high commitment and quality control. In my company, Springer-Verlag of Berlin and Heidelberg, we commission many works and we publish lots of monographs, handbooks, reference works, loose-leaf collections, magazines, and so on. I imagine that we will continue to commission useful works.

Statements taken from individual presentations

The conference was preceded by a one-day Workshop on "The Impact of Electronic Publishing on Literature Availability and Scientific Publishing in Developing Countries", jointly organized by the UNESCO Physics Action Council and the American Physical Society. I would like to congratulate Dr. Irving Lerch and his associates for this initiative. As it turned, out the workshop was almost a tutorial on the main themes of the conference, and we had lively and open discussions. Dr. Lerch gave me a copy of the transparencies and I suggest that they be put on the WWW.

I should like to praise Dr. Harry Lustig (APS) for sharing with us the basic financial data of his society. He certainly did stimulate discussions of real costs involved in publishing. Working Group I discussed the economics of publishing extensively and we heard its recommendations a few minutes ago.

The Conference is supposed to come up with a comprehensive statement of all identified problems and these are manifold.

Mr Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO , in welcoming the conference participants, underlined the timeliness of the event since a new six-year strategic period of his Organization is to start this year. He also mentioned that Prof. J. Lederberg will chair an international advisory council that he recently set up on modern communication technologies in science.

The Director-General's statement:
"Science is nothing if not communicated to others"
was taken up many times during the course of the Conference. The transmission of ideas, the transfer but also sharing of knowledge are key factors for UNESCO. Main issues to concentrate on, according to Mr Mayor, are copyright, security, long-tern storage and peer review.

I would like to quote here Prof. Bryan Coles, who gave me a little poem:

The Scientist's View
At least let it be said of me when I am dead,
His sins were scarlet but his papers read!

Prof. Coles, being the first keynote speaker, pleaded for a code of practice covering peer review, dating of documents, independent electronic archives and the introduction of a system of universal identifiers. He also stated that less than 20% of academic scientists make frequent use of current awareness services, as opposed to more than 40% in industry. One great area of uncertainty concerns the nature and management of the ultimate electronic archive.

I would like to quote Umberto Eco, who recently said in an interview that our computers are suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Asked to say something about the upcoming Information Society, he replied that there are more specialized databases and collections of raw data available nowadays than any normal human being could possibly access. In addition, more and more disciplines seem to have developed their own "language" and codes. This means that we are deviating from an universal information society and are entering a period of collective forgetting, like we had in Antiquity. Who knows now what will be important in the future?

The second speaker, Mr. F. Mastroddi of DG XIII of the European Commission delivered an excellent research paper. He cited the European Council of Ministers: "The information content sector will be very important for the future information society." He was the first of several speakers to mention the fact that computer screens are not ideal for reading. The trend from "scribe to screen", however, is there.

Dr. V. Canhos presented a very good paper on the "invisibility of scientists in developing countries". Internet or WWW might help here to stimulate the reading of relevant documents, both originating in the developing countries and coming from the industrialized countries. Already Internet connects some 160 countries and the developing countries are showing highest growth rates.

Dr. Derek Law concentrated on preservation, which is much more than electronic archives or repositories. He pointed out that legal deposit only exists for the printed word. Access should be created now and not when copyright runs out. Age is counted in days or months, not in years. EP casts a longer shadow than it deserves. We should be able to do more with raw data. (This point was also made by other speakers, and also came up during the working group discussions.)

Prof. R. Wedgeworth presented an overview of some important digital library projects in the USA, including his own at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Currently some 30 journals are supplied in SGML and a test-bed for scientists and students is being created. "The devil is with the detail", Prof. Wedgeworth said, referring to many implementation problems.

I made many more notes and these will be made available on the ICSU Server.

Some interesting statements from other presentations were:

  1. Superhighway or dirt-track?
  2. America does not exist in the afternoon (on the Internet)
  3. Europe does not exist in the (American) morning
  4. Where is the rest of the world?
  5. We need archival rescue teams
  6. We want to pay for the drink, not for the bottle.
    My answer: Publishers may offer a supermarket, but not a bar. Individual drinks are more expensive!
  7. Do it, then fix it!
  8. The winner takes it all
  9. A publication is a public announcement
  10. Documents are living
  11. All publishers are equal, but some publishers are more equal than others
  12. Copyright is the only legal means to reward the author's creativity. It is the author who owns it!
  13. A lawyer always comes in when something has happened
  14. The moral rights are most important
  15. There will be a merger of EP and databases
  16. Scientists should not become departmentalized
  17. Scientists work with fluid information
  18. It was all OK when money was still around
  19. We need every piece of every article
  20. Nobody mentioned Ted Nelson: Inventor of Hypertext
  21. The role of the libraries is underestimated
  22. There are major historical differences between Europe and the USA (e.g. page charges)
  23. Science is changing, communication is changing, so: content must be changing
  24. The biggest threat comes from the telecoms
  25. The language can be a barrier, but we must understand that education will continue to start with local (one's own) languages.

Conclusions: Recommendations and options for the future

1. The future will be hybrid. There will be a large variety of content, varying from raw material up to validated documents with multimedia supplements. We need document or information identifiers. We also need intelligent agents to find the information for us.

2. The funding agencies/governments, etc. have spent far more money on research but have neglected the concomitant costs of running/upgrading information systems. In some countries libraries are not funded by central agencies, but have to acquire funding themselves.
Option: Proactive policies at national and regional levels.

3. Publishers are part of the science community. They invest a lot in staff, training and infrastructure and employ many scientists. Publishers have always been an active part of the scientific information system. STM, the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, registered in The Netherlands, represents some 80% of all activities in this area. STM publishers are not media, broadcasting, software or telecom companies.
Option: We feel that a clarification of the publishing process is needed. This covers: research, editorial work, peer reviewing, in-house work, composition and lay-out, distribution up to collection management in libraries and documentation centers.

4. The Information Society needs standards or well-defined formats. These may vary with the nature of the content and the requirements of scientists and librarians.
Option: It is very important to channel the many individual developments.

5. In order to guarantee global accessibility and retrievability, which is particularly important to developing countries, it is very important to build prototypes of repositories and test these.
Option: ICSU-Press and UNESCO stimulate such developments.

6. The annual subscription seems the most practical model for licensing unlimited access within a controlled environment. Meta-information should be available for free.
Recommendation: Stimulation of cost, pricing and user awareness.

7. The whole area of information usage (with fingerprinting, tattooing, water-marking, etc.) should offer an efficient control of the impact of the scientific communication process. It should help to improve the awareness and use of scientific information and to avoid redundancies and overlap.
Recommendation: Start some good projects.

8. Peer reviewing is the best principle of scientific publishing. Peer reviewing has its own investments and these should be recognized and respected.
Recommendation: To earmark all works in the future with codes, e.g. communication (preprint or e-print); offered for publication with a date; accepted for publication with a date and the journal title; published with the meta-information and a document identifier, which should be included in the abstract.

This should become a Code of Practice. It was suggested to add an (R) to the title to indicate a peer reviewed article. A (P) would probably be better.

9. All scientists should receive formal training in using electronic information, the preparation of electronic manuscripts as well as in efficient dissemination. This ideally should start at undergraduate level.
Recommendation: To set up an international programme for training.

10. Last but not least scientists/authors have moral rights: the right of your name linked to your work and the right of integrity, protection against intellectual theft and fraud.
Recommendation: ICSU Press and UNESCO should stimulate the awareness of copyright and moral rights in general.

NB: Developing countries may require an easier-to-handle level of communication, e.g. flat ASCII and no illustrations. This is a very difficult area with high additional costs involved, if it is at all possible.

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