Brussels, 14 Jan 2003
A seminal report on the impact of new information communication technologies (ICT) on scientific publishing puts the spotlight on a subject already facing serious challenges - the future of peer reviewing and the path to publication.
When research is completed, how do scientists share their results with others? Who judges whether research is good enough to be published? Traditionally, researchers have submitted articles to a professional scientific journal. Its editor sends the material for validation by peer review, and uses those reviews to decide which articles to publish. Based on comments by the peer reviewers and journal editors, authors commonly revise their articles before printing.
Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is an important way to establish research claims in the scientific community. Later, the published findings may be summarised and interpreted in less technical language for newspapers, television, and other media.
Today, broader dissemination is being encouraged by policy-makers to allay growing public suspicions about the impact of science on society, especially in relation to food safety and human cloning.
Fast track publishing
What happens to this procedure when the research findings can be published on-line in literally a matter of minutes? What impact will it have on credibility and accuracy of information? This is the challenge facing not only the scientific community, pressured both in academia and industry to publish more frequently (i.e. Jan Hendrik Schön case), yet weary of the credibility of electronic ('e') journals and other such means, but also those - including the media - in search of reliable, up-to-date research findings.
A forthcoming report, 'The implications of information technology for scientific journal publishing: a literature review', prepared for the Division of Science Resources Statistics of the National Science Foundation, examines among other things the extent to which ICT has altered and disrupted the traditional publishing approach.
Other issues covered in the report include the pricing and acceptance of e-journals, their function and attributes, especially the use of hyperlinks and their effects on how citations are treated on-line. The report highlights a number of issues for future studies, such as copyright and intellectual property rights, societal interest in peer review, and the roles of different actors including learned societies, universities, libraries, and commercial interests.