Electronic publishing

Doug Yanega dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU
Thu Mar 14 11:20:50 CST 1996

Andrey Sharkov wrote:

>The issue I wanted to address wasn't the possibility to FIND the
>information, but the ability to READ it. A book published 100 years ago DOES
>NOT REQUIRE any special technology to be read, and WILL NOT require it 100
>years from now. ANY electronic media REQUIRES a special technology to
>retrieve the information form it, and it WILL require it in the future. And
>nobody can guarantee that such technology will exist then. That dependency
>on a special technology makes any electronic media more vulnerable than
>paper, and the information stored on any electronic media is more likely to
>be lost (without quotation marks) than one stored on paper. If somebody
>finds a box with paper books in New Dehli in the year 2096, I am pretty sure
>that he/she will be able to read them. What about a box with CDs? May be,
>may be not.

That's why we need sources of funding for which archival updating is *built
in* to the process of doing systematics, not some afterthought, or purely
sporadic thing. Moreover, this problem is NOT unique to us, and yet other
scientific fields appear to be forging ahead with electronic-only
publishing. Do the physicists know something we don't know? Let's suppose a
few things: SUPPOSE you are the proprietor of an electronic journal.
SUPPOSE you have subscribers which pay for access to your journal *and* its
archives. SUPPOSE the technology changes. Now, are you or are you not going
to fulfill your obligation to your subscribers and update your archives? My
supposition is that the subscribers will *demand* it, and they will get it.
Problem solved.
        All it requires is that electronic publication goes through some
*real* journal equivalent - I agree that if Joe Blow puts his papers on his
home page, makes a few private CDs, and then vanishes, we'll have a hard
time referring to his work because it won't be available for updating. The
only "trick" here is making sure that there are no private caches of
electronic pubs that aren't available in case updating becomes necessary.
If we can imagine the problem, then we can plan ahead. If the folks at
Notre Dame had the option of depositing their punch cards in a central
national archive that guaranteed medium upgrades, the "data obsolescence"
problem wouldn't have existed! It's all a matter of cooperation and
coordination, which we have never had before, but is certainly possible.
Every institution has pretty much done its own thing, gone its own way, and
lots of information can be lost that way (we *still* face similar problems
with institutions independently designing custom software for private
databases, rather than ensuring cross-compatibility). THAT is a hurdle we
need to overcome to make electronic publishing work. We've got to think
globally, act as a community. If we do that, I think most of the objections
*are* pretty trivial (yes, Peter, you made several good points earlier, and
I agree I may have overstated things).

Doug Yanega       Illinois Natural History Survey, 607 E. Peabody Dr.
Champaign, IL 61820 USA      phone (217) 244-6817, fax (217) 333-4949
 affiliate, Univ. of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Dept. of Entomology
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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