5.0077 Reposting: Publishing in Computopia (1/80)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 21 May 91 14:59:36 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0077. Tuesday, 21 May 1991.

Date: Mon, 20 May 91 21:31:06 CDT
From: robin@utafll.uta.edu (Robin Cover)
Subject: Reposting from PACS-L@UHUPVM1

The following may be worth re-posting on HUMANIST ... It's germane to
the discussion of publishing and related matters. . .

Robin Cover

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Mermin, N. David. May 1991. "Publishing in Computopia."
Physics Today 44(5); 9, 11.

This short, but very thought provoking, and only partially
tongue in cheek, article suggests that physicists, at least,
with their already strong dependence on the preprint as a
means of communication, might well be better off dispensing
with printed journals altogether. Statements like "The fact
is that journals are obsolete except as archival
repositories...." provoke readers to consider just how much
longer printed publications will be viable in fast moving
fields like computer science, molecular biology and physics
where the publication delay for printed materials is simply
no longer acceptable.

One very interesting suggestion he presents is an
alternative means of validating scientific articles which
does away with most referees and with peer-reviewed
journals. He suggests that virtually all manuscripts be
published (as they probably are already - eventually), but
for those researchers who desire to, for those that need
evaluation for tenure or granting agencies, a paper could
first be submitted to a panel that would give it a grade of
from A+ to F, in the same way school papers are graded. To
receive a grade an author would have to agree to post a
paper regardless of the grade it received, but he or she
would be given at least one chance to improve a bad grade
before it was sent to the network. Ungraded papers would
have to be evaluated by the readers. Considering the
increasing scrutiny the peer review process has been
receiving of late (e.g. in the recent book "Peerless
Science: Peer Review and U.S. Science Policy" by D.E. Chubin
and E.J. Hackett, 1990) it is likely that some adjustments
to the current peer review process will be made and this
suggestion is only one (although a fairly radical one) of
the many that will be proposed for bringing about such

He concludes:

"Our failure to recognize the obsolescence of
journals has restricted effective scientific
communication to in-groups and cliques and is
destroying our libraries. The sooner we get rid of
journals, the better."

While this is not something he may entirely believe, and is
certainly not universally accepted even within the
scientific community - much less the library community - I'm
sure there are many out there who will find the idea
attractive, even with all of the current drawbacks and
unsolved problems of electronic publication.

It is past time to consider just what impact the
implementation of such a system will have on libraries. How
their mission, their structure and their staffing might be
modified to allow them to continue to play a role in such a
purely electronic environment. By taking over the role of
depository and purveyor of such electronic journals
libraries may have their only (slim) chance for long term
relevance and survivability. The first problem is deciding
where we want to go, and then how we are going to get there.

[Physics Today describes David Mermin as being "on leave
from the Cornell Physical Sciences Library Committee, where
he wastes innumerable hours each year helping to decide what
journals to drop."]

Lloyd Davidson
Northwestern University