Re: Medical journals are dead. Long live medical journals

From: Andrew Odlyzko <amo_at_RESEARCH.ATT.COM>
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2000 09:44:33 -0500

   Jim Till <till_at_OCI.UTORONTO.CA> writes:

   It's still far from clear (at least, to me!) why members of the physics
   research community seem, in general, to be more comfortable with eprints
   than are (as yet?) many members of the biomedical research community.

That is an excellent question that has been puzzling many people.
There are no definitive answers, but much seems to depend on the
culture of each field. It should be noted that not all of the
physics research community is "comfortable with eprints." There
is tremendous variation even within physics. Ginsparg's preprint
server took off initially just in his small community of theoretical
high energy physicists. I wrote about this in my paper "The slow
evolution of electronic publishing," pp. 4-18 in "Electronic
Publishing '97: New Models and Opportunities," A. J. Meadows and
F. Rowland, eds., ICCC Press, 1997, also available at


as follows:

  We can see the confluence of many of the factors mentioned above in
  recent technological changes. The rapid acceptance of Ginsparg's
  preprint server was a case of simple substitution. His research
  community in high energy theoretical physics had, during the 1980s,
  developed a culture of massive preprint distribution. Each department
  would send copies of all preprints (typeset in TeX) in this area to
  several hundred other institutions. Costs per department ran into
  tens of thousands of dollars per year. Under these circumstances,
  shifting to electronic distribution was easy. The main loser was the
  postal service. However, the Post Office has no voice in departmental
  decisions. One could also claim that secretaries lost, since there
  was less work for them to do. However, secretaries do not have much
  power in decisions of this type either, and in any case, who likes
  stuffing envelopes?

  While Ginsparg's preprint server has been growing by covering more and
  more areas, the progress has been less dramatic than its initial
  takeover of high energy theoretical physics. Other fields do not have
  the same culture of massive preprint distribution, and so the S-curve
  is less steep. Still, the usage of his preprint and a few other
  preprints is growing, and once most preprints in an area start getting
  posted on a preprint server, that server universally becomes the
  lifeblood of the community.

Andrew Odlyzko

Andrew Odlyzko
AT&T Labs - Research voice: 973-360-8410 fax: 973-360-8178
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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