View Full Version : Re: President's Message - The Future of Academic Publishing

John Sidles
04-29-1997, 05:21 AM
Dear Biomech-L colleagues

I enjoyed Peter Cavanagh's very perceptive email message
regarding timely on publishing in biomechanics, and I
thought it might be of interest for biomech-l subscribers
know that there is *already* in existence a service
similar to the one he describes ...

> Are there solutions to the dilemma identified here?
> One possible scenario is the following: Professional
> societies such as the ISB could provide a site where
> short reports could be EMailed. The Society would
> also offer intervals of paid telecommuting employment
> to qualified reviewers who have time to devote to the
> task of instant report review. The report would be
> assigned a score by two such reviewers and then posted
> within 48 hours of receipt on the Electronic Journal
> of the ISB with the score attached. Qualified readers
> (e.g. ISB members) could also assign a score which
> would be updated as a running average as each reader
> expressed an opinion. There would be no revisions by
> the author and thus no long delays in posting. Each
> 14 days the Journal would be indexed and archived at a
> site where easy retrieval was possible. One
> stipulation would be that the data must be available
> for review on the author's own web site.

The NSF-funded web site "http://xxx.lanl.gov/" which holds the
"Los Alamos Preprint Archive" already provides a similar
service. This archive was originally just for particle theory
physics articles, but proved so popular that it has recently been
expanded to include all areas of physics. About 1500 articles
are archived per month, and there are presently around 60,000
articles in the archive.

Here is the way the preprint archive works:

(1) The service is free.
(2) Articles remain in the archive forever.
(3) Articles cannot be withdrawn. However, an
amended article can be posted, with an explanation
of the errors in the original submission.
(3) The NSF funds professional archive managers, so that
the archives are fully cross-indexed and backed-up.
(4) There is no peer-review, so that *any* article
can be submitted.
(5) Articles can be retrieved in a variety of formats,
with PDF being the most popular.
(6) Web Browser plugins are available which allow high-quality
viewing and printing of most articles. I use the
(free) Adobe Acrobat Reader plugins, and have encountered
no problems.
(7) Articles can be submitted in any of three formats:
TeX, PostScript, and PDF. I use the TeX variant called
LaTex, which is the most popular option.
(8) The submission process is fully automated, and can be
accomplished by email or by ftp.

The Los Alamos archive already includes the subtopics
"biological physics" and "medical physics". These two subtopics
were created only a few weeks ago, and have not as yet received
many posts. It would be perfectly reasonable (and indeed
welcomed by the NSF) if the ISB were to "colonize" these

The Los Alamos archive differs from Dr. Cavanaugh's ISB
conception mainly in that there is no provision for peer
review. I wonder, therefore, if the most effective use of ISB
resources would be to provide published peer reviews of archived
articles, rather than duplicating (at vast expense in time and
trouble) the entire functionality of the Los Alamos archive?

Speaking as a member of the biomechanics community, I would
*greatly* welcome an ISB web page in which complete reviews of
archived articles were posted, as opposed merely flagging
articles as "accepted" versus "not accepted" (there would be no
need to compromise the identity of reviewers). This would go a
long way toward helping to establish more uniform and objective
standards of review for the Biomechanics community.

My own experience with the Los Alamos archive has been very
positive. In December 1996 I posted an article in the Quantum
Physics archive (article number "quant-ph/9612001"), and as a
result received plenty of constructive feedback from other
readers of the server. Biomech-L readers can consult my article
to see how nicely the practical problems of reproducing
high-quality equations and figures have been solved by the Los
Alamos administrators.

Are there any downsides? Here are a couple:

(1) To read the articles, I had to fiddle around a bit with
with my computer. Specifically, I had to download the
Adobe Acrobat Reader plugin (free) that was appropriate
for my Macintosh Netscape Browser. Then I had to download
a complete set of "Computer Modern" typefaces (also free),
which is the typeface used by the Los Alamos PDF generator.
The Los Alamos site had links to the appropriate web pages.

(2) To submit my article (in LaTex), I had to let the Los Alamos
server know that it was a LaTex document. To my surprise, it
is easier submit documents than it is to read them!

Overall, the Los Alamos server accepts TeX documents gladly,
accepts PDF and PostScript documents grudgingly, and adamantly
refuses all other formats. This restriction may seem harsh to
new users (why won't they accept *my* favorite format ...
Amiga-Dos WordPerfect (v1.05)?), but the Los Alamos
administrators have found that this restriction is necessary to
ensure compatibility with the automated nature of the server,
and to ensure that all people accessing the site can read the
articles posted there. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to convert
Microsoft Word documents, as well as many other formats, to PDF.

In summary, it seems to me that:
(1) Dr. Cavanaugh's ideas are excellent, and
(2) the NSF-funded Los Alamos server provides a fast, low-risk,
low-expense path toward implementing Dr. Cavanaugh's ideas.

Sincerely ... John Sidles