UNESCO, Paris, 19-23 February 1996

Electronic Publishing via Scientific Societies

By: J. C. Sens
CERN, Geneva, Switzerland and National Central University, Taiwan, R.O.C.

Table of Contents


It is argued that by abandoning the traditional path followed in publishing results of scientific research and replacing it by a system in which the Scientific Societies take central stage, the current problems of ever-rising cost, ever-increasing delays and inadequate peer-review can be solved without loss of the benefits of electronic publishing.

A proposal along these lines for physics is under study by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) and will be presented in some detail.

Its principle element is a full-text database, run by ``Regional'' Physical Societies, with links to existing journals for the editing, refereeing, printing and mailing of papers to be published in (paper and/or electronic) journals.

1. Introduction

IUPAP is the ``International Union of Pure and Applied Physics''.

At present, some 45 national, identified physics communities are members of this organisation, making IUPAP the representative of nearly the entire community of physicists around the world.

A working group of IUPAP is currently examining a new system of communications, in which national and/or regional Physical Societies will take responsibility for the storage of publications on full-text databases, and for their dissemination via electronic access as well as via traditional scholarly paper journals.

The need for a radical revision of the centuries-old system of communicating results of scientific research via paper documents is apparent by noting that:

The volume and cost of production and distribution, the subscription fees and the delays between the submission of articles and their publication in the paper journals will soon become unsustainable and lead to the disappearance of many of them.

Current efforts in the domain of electronic submission and on/line distribution are unable to prevent the demise of the journals.

Large-scale electronic publishing is technically feasible.

World-Wide-Web in its present form is not the answer to the problem, mainly because of the absence of peer review.

Quantitative arguments for each of these observations can be found in reference {1}. Although these conclusions are more widely known than the arguments leading up to them, time prevents me from repeating these arguments here. Three figures may suffice to illustrate the current trends:

Fig. 1 illustrates the variation in the number of pages over the last 5 years of two U.S. and two European physics journals, showing a nearly two-fold increase in the size of the U.S. journals, and the onset of a decline in the size of the European journals.

Fig. 2 illustrates the migration by non-U.S. authors towards U.S. journals, resulting from differences in price- levels and delays.

Fig. 3 shows that globally speaking, journal prices have increased by 100% over a period of about eight years.

2. Re-organisation of publication procedures in physics: a proposal.

2.1 Outline of the proposal

The observations above have led IUPAP to consider a re-organisation of the traditional publication procedures and to attempt to combine the merits of paper and electronic publishing into a new format for communications in physics.

The key point of the proposal is to put the submission and retrieval procedures in the hands of the Physical Societies, and leave the entire editing process and the (paper or electronic) distribution of the journals in the hands of the publishers of the various scientific journals.

We shall first outline the proposal and then discuss its features. We propose to create " Regional Publishing Offices (RPO's)", to be managed by "Regional Physical Societies". All manuscripts, in all branches of physics, are submitted, using Internet and WWW, to the appropriate RPO, where they are stored in full-text databases in the format in which they were written as well as in PostScript format.

\footnote{Clearly, authors would be free to submit their work to any RPO other than their own; strict adherence to regional boundaries is neither possible nor desirable since the authorship of many publications is cross- regional.} .

Once stored in one of the "Regional Physics Databases", the manuscripts are called "e-prints".

Some of the e-prints are intended for publication, others are not. The e-prints intended for publication in one of the regional physics journals are converted to a standard, internationally recognised format which will guarantee that the article remains accessible even if text formatters are replaced by updated versions in later years. The conversions will be handled by companies working under contract with the RPO's. The converted e-prints are stored and indexed in the full-text database, with pointers to the source and PostScript files.

As a result, the databases contain three types of e-prints:

1. pre-prints,

2. articles submitted for publication in one of the regional journals,

3. articles which have appeared or will appear in one of the regional journals.

Access to the pre-prints is generated by means of a WWW interface, which will extract information such as abstracts, titles, authors or keywords, or the full pre-print text (in any format) from the database. This Bulletin Board type service would be available by subscription and be free of charge. Example:

" subscribe < user > to e-prints of author < x > , or institute < y > , or on topic < z> ."

This pre-print retrieval service would be an improvement over the Los Alamos database, since queries may be made on the full text, and since the manuscript may be submitted in any format, without any knowledge of HTML, SGML etc.

Articles submitted for publication, on the other hand, would be handled as follows:

The author informs the RPO and the editor of the journal of his choice via e-mail of his intend to publish an article, currently stored as pre-print on the database.

The RPO translates the article to the "Standard format for physics articles" {2}. This standard is the same for all Regions.

The responsibility of the RPO ends and the editor/publisher dialogue begins.

The editor copies the article from the regional physics database to his local screen and printer.

The editor contacts one or more referees via e-mail. The referee gets access to the article.

Modifications are inserted in the article in standard format and returned to the database.

At the end, the editor notifies the publisher that the article is rejected or ready for publication, i.e. for transfer to the publisher's private database.

The conversion to camera-ready copy, the printing and the distribution remains the responsibility of the publisher.

The published articles are flagged and remain on the regional physics database.

Access to published articles is the same as access to the pre-prints, i.e. via the WWW interface, but at a price (see below).

In practice, one would first establish a full-fledged e-print service; once this service is operational, one would then create the necessary links with the publishing companies.

2.2 Regional Physical Societies and Regional Publishing Offices

The proposal above originated at CERN {3}, and was tailored to the situation in Europe, where the main journals are published by private publishers, rather than by the European Physical Society (EPS).

In total there are six Regional Physical Societies {4}:

The EPS is the Regional Society for 36 member Societies in Europe.

In the U.S., the American Institute of Physics (AIP) is not a Regional Society in the geographical sense, but a conglomerate of 10 professional Societies, i.e. The American Physical Society (APS), the Acoustical Society of America etc., representing a total of 120,000 members. AIP publishes 14 journals, while some of the member-Societies publish journals in their own specialities, e.g. Physical Review (A,B,C,D and E) and Physical Review Letters, published by APS.

This centralisation of publication activities, along with the activities at Los Alamos, where a fast-growing collection of pre-prints in different subfields is available to any interested reader, constitute in effect the basic ingredients for the U.S. of the proposal under discussion.

In South-East Asia, the Association of Asian Pacific Physical Societies (AAPPS) has 17 member Societies. A characteristic feature here is a very large difference in the status of research in physics in the various member countries.

The Euro-Asian Physical Society (EAPS) is the Regional Society comprising 5 Societies of the former Soviet Union, with approx. 5,000 members.

The Federation of Latin-American Physical Societies (FELASOFI) is the Regional Society of 17 Physical Societies in Central and South America and represents approx. 15,000 physicists.

The Society of African Physicists and Mathematicians (SAPAM) is the Regional Society for Africa, with 950 members.

Our proposal is therefore addressed to the six Regional Societies above. In spite of their differences in structure, membership and status of research in physics, the basic problems are the same for all: to rationalise the dissemination of information on results of research in the world-community of physicists.

On the one hand, the AIP, the EPS (or rather, some of the publishers in Europe) and the AAPPS are perhaps best equipped to launch a pilot project along the lines sketched above; on the other hand, in the other Regions the need for having ready access to results obtained elsewhere and for reducing cost is much greater. These other Regions are also not burdened by an already-present tradition in electronic publishing elsewhere.

2.3 Cost and copyright considerations

The proposed centralisation of the technical aspects of the publication process at the Regional Societies, while maintaining a large measure of diversity in the "content" via the editing and refereeing activities of the publishers, will require some ground rules in order to guarantee its economic viability:

The Regional Publishing Offices must be non-profit organisations.

The RPO's must be self-financing, have a balanced budget, and be accountable to the Regional Physical Societies.

For pre-prints, the access to the Regional databases is free of charge.

For articles to be published, the RPO charges the relevant publisher for the transfer of the manuscripts from the regional to the publisher's database.

For published articles on the regional database, stored in the format in which they are published, the RPO charges a fee from readers who wish to copy the article to a printer in their home Institute. The payment is made via a (individual or institutional) credit card or subscription.

For each copy of a published article on the regional database, the RPO pays a royalty to the publisher of the article in question.

The cost of access to the publisher's private database is regulated by the publisher.

3. Discussion

The proposed reorganisation has a number of advantages:

The advantages to an AUTHOR submitting an article are:

The advantages to the READER are:

The advantages to the PUBLISHER are:

The advantages to the LIBRARIES are:


{1} J. C. Sens, ``Telecommunications within the world community of physicists'', Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Research and Communications in Physics (RACIP2), Tokyo, Sept 18-22 1995.

{2} Published by ISO, the International Organisation for Standardisation, as ISO 8879 (Standard Generalised Mark-up Language, 1986) and ISO 12083 (Electronic manuscript preparation and mark-up, 1994).

{3} E. van Herwijnen and J. C. Sens, “Integration of Publishing

Procedures for European Physics Journals", proposal to the Action Committee on Publications of the European Physical Society.

{4} Directory of Physical Societies 1995, RACIP2 Conference, Tokyo Sept 1995.

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