Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 208.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Fri, 29 Aug 2003 06:08:25 +0100
Subject: Nature article: ant book deepens divide over web publishing
Nature article: Ant book deepens divide over web publishing
Nature 424, 985 (28 August 2003); doi:10.1038/424985a
Ant book deepens divide over web publishing
[SAN DIEGO] A disagreement about ants has highlighted increasing conflict
between biologists and book publishers over the release of scientific
monographs in print and online.
Brian Fisher, an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences in San
Francisco, is pressing for permission to publish data about ant species on
the Internet. Under the terms of a book deal he signed last August with
Harvard University Press, he cannot put material from his forthcoming
monograph online for at least four years after it is printed.
The argument is just one example of the tension that is pervading several
fields of systematic biology, researchers say. Many systematists want to
publish their data and images on the web at the same time as they publish
their monographs hefty books that can document years of research. But
publishers fear that simultaneous web publishing will reduce sales of the
"We are on the cusp of a renaissance in systematics," says biologist Edward
Wilson of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But we are in a
transition period of one form of publishing to another."
Fisher's deal with the Harvard press involves a monograph on the ants of
Madagascar, where the isolated and diverse ecosystem is of special interest
to systematic biologists. Fisher hopes that the book will be published next
But Fisher also recently helped to launch AntWeb (http://www.antweb.org), a
website that includes photographs of ants from Madagascar and California
(see Nature 424, 242; 2003). Harvard press officials are resisting his
attempts to publish much of his data online before the monograph is
published, worried that it will dent the book's future sales.
"I don't think the web release of material will hurt book sales; it will
actually increase them," Fisher says. Other researchers cite the US
National Academies Press as an example of a publisher whose free online
publication of its studies boosts its print sales. =20 Correspondence shows
that Harvard press disagrees, and is concerned about its ability to recover
its costs in producing the monograph if AntWeb publishes much of its
contents.Harvard press officials declined to comment on the dispute.
"These are difficult questions," says Lynne Withey, director of the
University of California Press. "People disagree about whether the web
hurts or helps." Officials at the California publisher are studying 30 of
their social-science and humanities books to determine the impact of online
publishing on a traditional monograph.
The recent publication by Harvard University Press of Wilson's book
Pheidole in the New World: A Dominant, Hyperdiverse Ant Genus also brought
criticism from some quarters about the lack of immediate free web access to
its contents (see Nature 424, 727; 2003). He says that the publisher is now
putting the book online.
Wilson thinks that the best solution is for book publishers to put
monographs online 6-12 months after print publication. He says that = his
latest book might be one of the last of its kind "one of the last of the
great sailing ships", as he puts it, adding: "We need to work out some
arrangement with publishers."
2003 Nature Publishing Group
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