Tuesday, December 17, 2002

The Great Journal Debate

Elsevier is closing down IDEAL the electronic access point for Academic Press, a publisher recently acquired by Elsevier. This leaves only Elsevier's Science Direct for electronic access of the Academic Press and other Elsevier journals. Given this news and today's New York Times article I feel I should comment on the great journal debate. As a member of the editorial board of Information and Computation, one of the Academic Press journals, these issues give me some angst.

The internet has, of course, a large effect on the distribution of scientific papers over the last ten years. Even more so, the consolidation of the scientific publishing companies has put a squeeze on university libraries.

Many of my colleagues have suggested that we just start up our own online journals. Running a journal is more than just getting papers refereed and sticking them on a web page. Journals have to be marketed, maintained and presented in a format that makes information easy to find. The private companies do a very good job of this. However, Elsevier's recent pricing policies are causing many libraries to drop several of their journals. Loss of access is never a good thing.

The professional societies, such as ACM, IEEE and SIAM have their own journals with their own on-line access policies that might form a reasonable median. You can also often get early versions of papers from scientist's home pages or sites like citeseer.

I have mixed emotions on the whole journal issue. Clearly status quo is not working--something will have to give. My biggest fear is that scientists will just stop submitting to journals altogether. I don't believe this is the best way to maintain knowledge for generations to come. After all, who will maintain your web page a century from now?

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