Biologists get drawn to web

May 7, 1999

The National Institute of Health is proposing to launch a radical scheme for publishing biology research papers on the web.

The NIH is consulting the scientific community on the proposal, which has drawn on the example of high-energy physicists, who initially send their papers to electronic archives at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Fred Friend, director of scholarly communications at University College London, said: "The Los Alamos scheme has shown that electronic publication can co-exist with paper publication without damaging the research status of papers as required for national assessment schemes such as the research assessment exercise. We need to discover whether the Los Alamos model can be applied in other subject areas."

Frank Norman, librarian at the National Institute of Medical Research, London, said that the global biomedical community had "great confidence" in the NIH's National Centre for Biotechnology Information, which is spearheading the initiative.

He said that web-based publication of biomedical papers could provide speedier and cheaper access to papers compared with print publication, but a big challenge would be to match the quality of information available in print. "I would be a little worried if it is too radical and print is left completely out of the picture."

Mr Norman added that while researchers are used to US dominance in publishing, British librarians and researchers would be "very concerned" if the web initiative was US-controlled. "If the project takes off, we will need convincing that it will not be detrimental to us in the long term."

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