Chemical & Engineering News,
December 18, 1995

Copyright © 1995 by the American Chemical Society.

The Publishing Paradox

Madeleine Jacobs
Editor, C&EN


Readers often ask how C&EN reporters select topics to write about among the many developments in chemistry. It's a good question. Each week, reporters in the science/ technology/education department of C&EN pore over reams of scientific papers and abstracts, culling the literature for those few topics that they'll cover in future issues. It's a daunting challenge. Merely consider this simple fact: In its first 30 years of existence, Chemical Abstracts Service covered 1 million articles. In 1995, CAS will have covered over 650,000 abstracts, a rate that equals nearly 1 million articles in about a year and a half.

This staggering growth reflects the explosion in scientific information. For ACS publications alone, the growth in scientific publishing has been phenomenal. In 1900, ACS published a mere 145 pages of research in one journal. Today, ACS publishes 24 journals and four magazines, as well as Advance ACS Abstracts. By the end of this year, ACS will have published more than 125,000 typeset pages of research and an additional 80,000 pages of supporting information, much of it available to subscribers on the Internet.

These should be exciting times for scientific publishing - and they are. At the same time, science publishing is at a critical crossroad, according to Robert H. Marks, director of the ACS Publications Division. "The variety and quantity of scientific research has been dramatically increasing at a time when the financial resources dedicated to science libraries are shrinking," Marks says. "At the same time, electronic information technology is providing new methods for the publication, access, and storage of research results."

Among the greatest challenges facing scientific publishing today is electronic technology as a medium for distributing scientific literature. It is generally accepted that research is not complete until it has been reviewed by experts in the field and published in a journal of recognized standing. Only then does it enter the archive as part of the permanent scientific record.

Given the new technology, how are scientific publishers to deal with the proliferation of non-peer-reviewed research on the Internet? How are they to tackle the difficult issues surrounding copyright and protection of intellectual property? How are they to protect the integrity of the archival record?

There is no question that electronic information networks play a significant role in the future of science publishing and information sharing. Today, nearly all ACS journal authors submit their articles on disks, and new editing software has reduced the time to prepare a manuscript for review and publication. In addition, electronic files are an ideal, cost-effective medium for transmitting certain kinds of raw data such as X-ray crystallography and gene sequences. Electronic databases are also simplifying literature searches.

A new brochure from the Publications Division, titled "Will Science Publishing Perish? The Paradox of Contemporary Science Journals," explores some of the key questions that go to the heart of scientific publishing today. Copies are available free by writing the ACS Publications Division, or, appropriately, the publication may be accessed on the ACS Publications Home Page by clicking Here. I found the publication to be provocative - and a fast read.

One misconception it dispels is that electronic publishing eliminates most of the costs incurred with publishing a journal on paper. In fact, preparing a true scientific journal as an electronic file for distribution through a computer network incurs all of the same "first copy" costs associated with publishing a journal on paper. These are the costs associated with peer review (10% of a journal's cost); editing, revising, and proofreading (30%); and electronic production, including design, layout, and illustration (30%). In reading this brochure, I was struck not only by the potential of electronic technology, but by its ultimate limitation: While digital files may, in part, some day replace ink on paper, there is no technology that can ever replace the people who create, review, and edit the information for future generations.


[ACS Home Page] [ACS Publications Division Page]