Electronic publishing in science

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7287.627 (Published 17 March 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:627

The revolution is only just beginning

  1. Richard Smith, editor.
  1. BMJ

    The five years between two Paris conferences on electronic publishing in science have seen dramatic changes. Almost all scientists now use the internet routinely. Most journals have produced an electronic version, and many are moving beyond simply making the paper version available through the web. Disciplines in addition to physics have created eprint servers (where authors can make their research open to everybody as soon as it is completed), and many new beasts—like PubMed Central and E-Biosci—have begun to stir in the information jungle. Nevertheless, most of those at last month's conference organised by Unesco and the International Council of Scientific Unions thought that we are still at the beginning of the electronic revolution in scientific publishing. The next five years will see greater change.

    Electronic publishing opens up the prospect of all scientists having access to all research from their desktops. Access has improved for some, but not for all—and for those in the developing world it has got worse. Everybody at the conference, including commercial publishers, agreed that it is good for science, scientists, governments, and the public for access to the results of scientific research to be unfettered. Unlike most physical commodities, the value of information increases as more people have access—because they can use the information in their own environments and add new insights, increasing the value for everybody.

    Journals, which have since the 17th century been the main means of disseminating research, have been important because they provided some quality control, drew together research papers on particular subjects, and organised the distribution of research. But they also Balkanised the research, dividing it up into many different journals, most of …

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