Re: Medical journals are dead. Long live medical journals

From: Albert Henderson <NobleStation_at_COMPUSERVE.COM>
Date: Tue, 29 Feb 2000 08:23:34 -0500

on 2/28/00 Andrew Odlyzko <> wrote:

> 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.

Actually, the National Institutes of Health sponsored preprint
distribution in the 1960s, much like one in high energy physics
funded by the Atomic Energy Commission and run by the American
Institute of Physics. As described above, it involved paper
copies sent by mail and was not available to the general public.
The "Information Exchange Groups" (IEG) experiment went down in
flames amidst complaints about the deteriorating quality of its
content. See P H Abelson (SCIENCE 1966;154:727) or E A Confrey
(SCIENCE 1966;154:843) for some details.

Circulation of informal reports started well before Henry
Oldenburg founded the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal

R&D investment and publication continues in all fields worldwide
in a growth pattern that shows no sign of the "S-curve" leveling
off that was forecast by Derek de Solla Price and others.

Best wishes,

Albert Henderson

Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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