Electronic Publishing discussion

Bioline at Bioline at
Fri Jun 17 19:21:28 CDT 1994

We have been reading the discussions on electronic publishing
with considerable interest and believe we may be able to
contribute to the debate by offering our practical experience.
At the end of last year we established an electronic publishing
service on the Internet called Bioline Publications. It provides
scientific journals, reports, conference proceedings and
newsletters of interest to bioscientists. We have now gained
some experience and would like to make the following points
in answer to comments already made by others.

[1] Providing scientific information to scientists in developing
countries: We believe that it is more likely that developing
countries can afford electronic communication than printed
journals. There remain regions where communication is still
difficult, but there is considerable progress being made and we
believe it will soon be possible to connect to most regions of
the world, although local telephone costs may be difficult to
meet for those not associated with a University or large
Institute. An additional benefit is that electronic publications
are likely to reach scientists in developing countries in a
timely fashion, rather than several years late, as is often the
situation with existing printed journals. We believe that a
single site can provide a valuable information service regionally
and train and encourage others in the use of this technology,
thus gradually extending access.

We are encouraged in this belief by our partners at Base de Dados
Tropical, Campinas, Brasil, who provide the Web and Gopher site
for the service and who have developed interface and searching
software applications. They can confirm that electronic
communication capability is a major means of progress for
scientists in countries where resources are scarce or difficult
to find. Electronic linking has made it possible for BDT to
become a major biological information resource and host to a
number of biological services. We share a wish to improve
scientific information flow and feel we can use our respective
experience towards this aim.

[2] Difficulties faced by publishers: We have had very many
discussions with publishers over the last year and are aware of
their difficulties and technical uncertainties. In general, there
is an acceptance that electronic publishing is here to stay and
is of considerable benefit to the international scientific
community. We all recognise that material available
electronically is liable to manipulation and redistribution by
unscrupulous users, but the difficulty exists already with
printed material and controlling illicit use has never been easy.

[3] Libraries: We have also talked with librarians and although
they represent a spectrum of attitudes, there is no doubt that
many are prepared to adapt to the new technical challenge that
electronic publishing offers.

[4] Archiving: We feel that there will always be archived printed
copies of electronically published material. These will be lodged
appropriately for future access. However, we also believe that
the concern about the long-term safety of electronically stored
material is unreal. As someone else has mentioned, the options
of electronic archiving, copying (or mirroring) at other sites,
storage on hard disk, floppy disk, tapes etc offer very secure
means of archiving that are equally as safe as books in a
library. If material is likely to be endangered by wars, it is
easier to copy and save electronic material to unthreatened
locations, returning the material when the situation stabilises,
than to move perishable books.

[5] Errors: As we have been formating printed material for
electronic distribution, we have discovered many mistakes in the
original material.[We do not correct these since we are merely
producing an electronic copy]. We do not think that mistakes will
be more common in quality electronic journals. Standards should
operate at as high a level in online-only journals as in the
printed journals; there is no reason atall why this should not
be so. Instructions for authors and a list of editorial board
members will be available online in exactly the same way as
they are available in libraries for current printed journals.

[6] Nomenclature: We strongly agree that present nomenclatural
rules have to be adhered to, but we also welcome the concept that
the bodies responsible will adapt to changes in technology. We
can see no reason why an electronic, peer reviewed oline-only
journal, with an international editorial board of high repute is
more likely to foster nomenclatural vandalism than a printed
version. Electronic publishing only offers a change in
distribution mechanism, not a change in content or standards.

[7] More equitable distribution of information: The new technology
clearly allows greater opportunities both for more equitable
distribution of scientific information and global contributions.
We must note the response of the scientific community and develop

[8] How Bioline Publications is meeting the challenge: We are
currently distributing material electronically in parallel to
printed material. Publishers of commercial journals have agreed
to collaborate by making the electronic versions of their printed
journals available at substantially reduced cost. As was
mentioned by other contributers to this discussion, there are no
printing and distribution costs and overheads are already
covered. Moreover, this form of distibution is likely to attract
a new readership (individual scientists, readers in remote or
economically disadvantaged countries, for example). We make no
charge at present to publishers for formating their material for
electronic transmission and feel that the system therefore offers
a useful mechanism for publishers to test the electronic water.

Access to Bioline is arranged to meet the needs of the most to
the least technically sophisticated user. It can therefore by
reached by Web, Gopher, Telnet or through e-mail search/ordering
procedures. We feel this diversity of approach is essential.
Material is delivered by e-mail to the 'reader's' mailbox. Later
we plan to make full screen viewing of the material an option,
and it will be interesting to see whether scientists prefer to
read their material on the screen or print it onto paper (we
suspect there will be vehement adherents to both). All abstracts
of papers, summaries of reports and tables of contents are free
to all on the Internet. For the delivery of full text and
graphics files, registration is necessary.

Electronic publishing makes it possible to provide a number of
add on services not associated with paper publications. We have
taken advantage of this by, for example, setting up a List
(bioline-l) as a discussion forum, and for announcing new
material and system up-grades; providing software options, Web
links to other bio-bibliographic sites on the Internet, graphics
formats options and News. There are many other possibilities in
the electronic environment for adding to the core function of
document delivery, and this seems to us to us to provide a
considerable bonus.

We have recently posted a short questionnaire to subscribers and
are beginning to receive answers. These will provide very
valuable information on the response of the scientific community
to this form of information distribution. Later this year we will
be producing an 'online only' journal (on Biosafety) with one of
our collaborating publishers. It will have an international
editorial board, be fully peer reviewed and will reach the same
high standards as an equivalent printed journal. There will be
an annual subscription, as with published journals, but the price
is expected to be low, for the reasons already given above. The
difference will be that papers will be made available paper-by-
paper, and the refereeing process will be conducted
electronically. We are discussing citation with the relevant
organisations and anticipate reaching an understanding on the
appropriate formats to be used.

We hope that our experience, though still limited, is of interest
to others. Although the system has only recenly been made
publicly available, we have spent a considerable amount of time
discussing the concept with scientists, publishers and libraries.
Time will tell whether this is the way people wish to receive
information - but we stongly believe that it is a contribution
to its more equitable distribution, which is our main objective.
to its more equitable distribution, which is our main objective.

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