Intended for healthcare professionals


Moving beyond journals: the future arrives with a crash

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 19 June 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1637

New ways to disseminate research from NIH and the BMJ

  1. Tony Delamothe, Web editor,
  2. Richard Smith, Editor
  1. BMJ

    “It's easy to say what would be the ideal online resource for scholars and scientists: all papers in all fields, systematically interconnected, effortlessly accessible and rationally navigable,from any researcher's desk, worldwide for free.”—Stevan Harnad

    Three hundred years of print journals have bequeathed us almost the exact opposite of the idealproposed by Harnad, one of the leading thinkers on how the internet will change science. In biomedicine thousands of journals fragment information into largely arbitrary groupings and charge usersfor access. The burgeoning of the world wide web (almost all researchers and three quarters of doctors in the developed world now have access) makes it inevitable that new systems of disseminatingresearch will replace or at least supplement traditional journals. Concrete proposals for new systems are now appearing, with an ambitious one from the National Institutes of Health leading the way. 1 2 We are about toenter a period of what the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction,” and only some of us will still be in business at the end. And those of us who still exist will not be doing exactly what we are doing now.

    What's the problem?

    The present system of disseminating research through journals has many failings (see BMJ's website for a summary of defects in journals), but there are two main drivers of change. One, as almost always, is money. The academic community, particularly in the United States, has come to resent the money sucked out of the research system by publishers.3 Most research is funded with public money, yet the US Association of Research Libraries spends $432m (£270m) ($12 000 (£7500) for each scientist) buying research journals.4 In the face of declining subscriptions publishers have long been putting up their prices each year by considerably more than inflation. Something had to give.

    Many researchers think …

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