The Future of Scientific
Publishing 2005

back to e-Publications


The Future of Scientific Publishing 2005

A report by Dr. Wendy Warr, Wendy Warr & Associates http://www.warr.com, for Issue 9 of the Chemical Structure Association Trust Newsletter (Spring 2005)

Two symposia at the ACS Meeting held in San Diego in March were of particular interest to our readers. One was the symposium honouring Peter Willett as winner of the ACS Award for Computers in Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research, some photos from which are displayed along with this article. The other, co-sponsored by CSA Trust and the ACS Division of Chemical Information (CINF), is the subject of the current article.

The opening talk (slides on hellers.com) was a devilishly amusing presentation by Steve Heller. There was less factual content in this presentation on Open Access (OA) than in Bill Town's talk in Peter Willett's symposium, but Steve held the audience in thrall. In his examples of OA journal policies he took a stab at ACS Publications' recent announcement of more "open" policies and gave the first public revelation of the Beilstein Journal of Organic Chemistry.

The Internet is threatening the way in which the scientific publishing industry has done business for many decades. The scholarly community needs organisations to accept, review, disseminate and archive manuscripts but the costs of the current system are too high and it is proving difficult to institute change. Peer review is about to collapse under the weight of too many poor manuscripts, all of which are too easily submitted via the Internet. The solution, independent of any new or old economic model of publishing, is to charge for submission of manuscripts, and charge a second fee for acceptance under the OA model.

While librarians and publishers have to some extent adapted to the new technologies over the past decade, for researchers it has been "business as usual": they publish wherever they want and fail to use new electronic facilities to enhance their manuscripts. Researchers need to stop publishing partial results on a regular basis. Journals need to charge authors for frivolous submissions. The real villains are the researchers. Of the 34,000 signatories to the Public Library of Science letter, about 34 have actually published in an OA journal. Steve predicts that university provosts will soon mandate researchers to put up their publications on either institutional or public Web sites.

If OA prevails, the only losers will be the publishers. Why do publishers think evolution does not apply to them? Nowhere in the Constitution is there a guaranteed right for a company to remain in business. Open Access will provide global, universal free access to information; resolve the serials crisis; accelerate scientific progress and research; enhance research productivity; and improve quality.

RenÚ Deplanque of FIZ Chemie Berlin described how the everyday work of the scientist has changed. The use of databases today is commonplace but with the advance of the Internet, evolving Grid technology and OA initiatives, new ways of handling and distribution of data will change the functions and applications of information systems. Yesterday, users were satisfied if they found what they were looking for; nowadays the direct application of information within the scientific process is what matters. Networking of computers to calculate huge amounts of experimental data, networking of experiments, and easy access to full text publications are changing the landscape. In a related talk, Robert Schl÷gl of the Max Planck Gesellschaft (MPG) addressed the need to link and exchange information content over national, institutional and disciplinary borders. MPG's vision is to integrate the Internet into scientific work flows, networking strategic partners and institutions in building institutional repositories and a digital archive.

The dynamic duo of the chemical semantic web, Peter Murray-Rust and Henry Rzepa were also in evidence. In an interesting and impassioned presentation, Peter told us how the World Wide Molecular Matrix stands up for the rights of molecules in the face of publishers whose interest seems to be to destroy the supplementary data submitted with a learned paper. He exemplified his case with demonstrations of OSCAR for understanding the data in free text, and InChI, the IUPAC international chemical identifier. He also attacked ACS for applying its copyright terms to supplementary data that are not actually the property of ACS. He recommends the use of a Creative Commons licence: an example is his presentation now mounted on the Cambridge Web site.

Henry bemoaned the fact that, although he can carry hours of music on his iPod and transfer it to a PC, he cannot do the equivalent with his scientific publications. In his presentation (available on his Web site) he talked about crystallising information and "intertwingling" (a superior form of "intermingling"). The challenge is to create a culture that values chemical metadata and open data. It is the "datument" rather than the document that matters. Henry produces datuments using the Adobe eXtensible Metadata platform (XMP), an RDF vocabulary that can be embedded in SVG, CML, PDF or JPEG documents. Molecular structures are represented as unique InChI identifiers and embedded in electronic articles as part of the XMP.

OA is inevitable: it is not a case of "if" but of "when", asserted Ann Wolpert of MIT in a masterly exposition of the economic and social factors. Scientists work in multi-disciplinary teams, based in more than one institution and they collaborate over time and space. Conflicts can occur when they have different access rights to information. It is not acceptable for publishers to retain control of a discipline through the literature. Tuition fees cannot rise at the rate of inflation, there is less research money, and the payout from endowments is falling. MIT has had to add three staff positions to negotiate licences with vendors and address restrictive clauses such as "walk-in" exclusions. This money could be spent on better things. If organised properly, OA respects the roles of societies, the critical value of peer review, and the changing nature of research and education, but recognises the inability of higher education to support the appetite of each discipline.

Since the final speaker, Derk Haank of Springer, as on previous occasions, failed to grace us with his presence, Pieter Bolman of the STM Association was the sole defender of the publishers' viewpoint. There are two models for OA: the author-pays, value model, and the self-archiving model that presupposes that the continuation of the current system. STM does not recognise the superiority of any particular model. Both profit and non-profit publishers are experimenting with OA. Any business model must be financially sustainable and generate income by adding value for all the customers (authors, readers and libraries). It should generate enough profit to encourage innovation, and attract investment and the best people. In principle, it seems logical that customers should pay in proportion to the value delivered but, in practice, the situation is not so straightforward. Pieter gave lengthy, reasoned arguments around sustainability and value. All the models used in current OA experiments have drawbacks, possibly fatal ones, but STM wishes them well: experiments are to be encouraged. Remember that governments can get it wrong. The market must decide which model is best within social responsibility constraints.

Guenter Grethe is to be commended on organising a very interesting symposium. I had wondered if I would regret missing some of the Lipinski-Oprea symposium on safe exchange of chemical structures in order to hear oft-repeated arguments about OA. I was proved wrong: this symposium was a credit to the Trust and, from my selfish point of view, will be good for sales of the twenty-fifth report in my ACS meeting series!

This page last updated 23rd February 2006