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Kansas Geological Survey, Open File Report 96-37

Future of Scientific Communication, part 3 of 6

Scientific Communication and Publication

The traditional role of scholarly publication is to formalize and record the scientific result in time, and to keep other researchers up to date with recent developments (Kerkoff, 1994). In the previous century and possibly even in the previous decade, the paper journal or monograph was the fastest and most efficient method to disseminate, validate, and archive research results. Traditional channels of scientific communication are being challenged today by the shear volume of publication, the increased unit costs, the relatively decreased resources of the academic library system, and most significantly the growth of networks, storage servers, printers, and software that make up the Internet. The world is rapidly changing from one in which societies, publishers and libraries control the printing, distribution, and archiving to a world in which individuals can rapidly and cheaply "publish" scientific results on-line. These changes provide significant challenges to the various participants and traditions of scientific publication (Demming and Rous, 1995).

Researchers have a unique role in the process of scientific communication, often acting as reader, author, and referee, frequently as editor, and also as organizer of conferences, schools, and workshops that result in scientific publications (Ginsparg, 1996). The researcher is also a major consumer and benefactor of scientific information. The paper journal or book has provided the physical format for the scientific result to be archived for the future and a structure by which the information can be retrieved. In addition, the reward system for the researcher has been based largely on the quantity and quality of the individual's publication record.

Exponential Growth in Publication

The number of scientific papers published annually has been doubling every 10-15 years for the last two centuries (Odlyzko, 1995). As an example of this growth, in 1935 the American Chemical Society (ACS) published 4,500 pages in three journals. In 1995, the same organization published 24 journals, four magazines, and the collection of Advanced ACS Abstracts encompassing over 125,000 typeset pages of research and an additional 80,000 pages of supporting information (American Chemical Society, 1996). This growth in a single scientific society represents an average annual page growth of 6% and a doubling approximately every 12 years.

In the earth and space sciences the increase over the last two decades has been a little slower with an estimated average rate of increase in number of articles of approximately 2.8% per year (Kerkoff, [1994] estimated that 11,977 articles in earth and space sciences were published in 1973 and that the number was 19,932 in 1992). Even this relatively conservative growth in earth science publishing provides for a doubling of the literature every 25 years. As a result of this continuing growth, research libraries and scholars must constantly increase their resources (money, time, and space) to wade through the ever increasing amount of published material. The significant costs involved in archiving, preserving, and retrieving published results is a part of the process of scientific communication that is often overlooked. In part, the exponential growth in scientific publication has been attributed to a reward system that is based more on quantity than quality of publication (Costa and Sylvester, 1993).

Libraries: Increasing Costs, Decreasing Resources

From 1970 to 1990, serial prices for scientific and technical journals increased at an average rate of 13.5 percent per year (Okerson, 1992). Over the last decade research libraries have been faced with rapid increases in serial costs (Figure 1; Association of Research Libraries, 1996). Geoscience journals were no exception, increasing at an average annual rate of 13.8% from 1987 to 1993 (Hiller, 1994). The double-digit increase in the price of geoscience serials has continued with a reported average increase in the 1995 to 1996 period of 18.6% (Noga, 1996). At the University of Kansas Library, the average price for a serial has increased from $76 in 1986 to $203 in 1996 (Figure 2; Crowe, 1996). Prices for books have also risen. Prices for scholarly books and monographs have shown similar increases (Figure 1; Association of Research Libraries, 1996). In the geosciences, prices for scientific books have risen at a 9.35% annual rate from 1987 to 1993 (Hiller, 1994). The average price of a book purchased at the University of Kansas Libraries has increased at an average annual rate of 16.7% ($19 in 1986 to $41 in 1996; Crowe, 1996). The increases in serials and book prices, including those in the geosciences, have run well ahead of the GNP deflator and ahead of the average annual increase of 8% in library budgets from 1970 to 1991 (Cummings and others, 1992). The result is a continuing series of journal cancellations that are now a regular part collection management activity (Hiller, 1994). The Association of Research Libraries (1996) reports significant decreases in purchase of serials and monographs (Figure 1). At the University of Kansas Libraries, 25% of the paid subscriptions have been canceled and 40% fewer books are being purchased in 1996 as compared to a decade ago (Figure 2; Crowe, 1996).

Figure 1. Changes from 1986 to 1995 in book and serial costs and purchases, and interlibrary loan demand at research libraries (Association of Research Libraries, 1996). A larger version of this figure is available.

Figure 2. Book and serial costs and interlibrary loan demand at the University of Kansas. A larger version of this figure is available.

The exponential growth in the quantity of published material and the rapid increase in journal and book unit costs calls into question the traditional model of a research library's mission of creating and maintaining large self-sufficient collections. Increasingly research libraries are dropping journal subscriptions and maintaining a smaller set of core titles. Libraries are joining together in consortia that share one subscription among several institutions and are devoting more resources to increased on-line library systems, electronic delivery of information services and an increased emphasis as gateways to library resources. (Okerson, A., 1992; Hiller, 1994). The decreasing institutional purchases of scientific serials and books could in themselves contribute to the problem by resulting in further increases in subscription rates to cover costs from a reduced circulation base (Holviak, 1993). These pressures threaten the archival function of research libraries and preservation of the scientific record. It has been speculated that even now a number of scientific works are lost, existing only as citations (Denning and Rous, 1995).

Challenges to the Scientific Publishing Tradition

The publication cycle is initiated by the scientist as producer of raw information, scientific result(s), and submitted manuscript (Figure 3; Kerkoff, 1994). The scientist is also a major consumer of papers in his field; either directly through subscription or personal communication (e.g., preprint), or indirectly through a research library or document delivery service. However, there is a growing demand for published scientific literature by experts outside a particular subdiscipline or by decision makers. This growing group of consumers is interested in the scientific results but may not have the time or background to understand the discipline's specialized language (Denning and Rous, 1995).

Figure 3. Traditional publishing cycle. A larger version of this figure is available.

In the traditional publication cycle the commercial publisher, scientific society, government organization, or university press organizes the review process, edits, prints, markets, and distributes the product. Acceptance and publication of a scientific article in a traditional journal provides quality assurance and value to the author (i.e., prestige, promotion and tenure). The review and editing process is meant to ensure that the published scientific record contains a minimum of obvious errors or repeats of earlier work (Denning and Rous, 1995). The quality filters of the traditional publishing tradition have also made the published article the principal measure of research productivity and the basis for the reward system.

The final step in the publishing cycle is the research library. The library provides current information to the enduser and acts as an archive and retrieval service. Libraries are often funded in part by overhead generated by scientific research (Ginsparg, 1996).

With the advent of electronic publication, individual papers are increasingly distributed in advance of traditional publication outlets. Manuscripts posted on the Internet can be accessed, readers can attach comments, and authors can post revised copies. On-line publication removes publication delays, accelerates dissemination of results, and provides the author a broader base of review. These changes represent significant changes in the traditional scientific publishing process. Articles are no longer bound to the scientific journal and can be delivered on-line singly or as part of a customized package. Scientific societies and publishers are beginning to move away from prepackaged journals and toward access to individual articles or databases (Denning and Rous, 1995). However, maintaining the quality filter provided by the refereeing and review within the evolving on-line publishing process remains critical to maintaining scientific standards (American Chemical Society, 1996). A number of changes in the traditional peer review and editing model have been proposed that try to maintain quality, but are more fluid and open up review to a broader base (Peters, 1996).

Scientific Publication and Technology Transfer

It is often difficult in the earth sciences to replicate or modify research published traditionally (Claerbout, 1994). The purpose of reproducing research is to transfer research products to the user, to validate research results, and to facilitate extending the research to better fit user needs. Reproduction of research is the fundamental problem in technology transfer and has been attributed to loss of steps along the research pathway (Claerbout, 1994). Lack of access to theory, methods, data, or results may form a missing step in the earth sciences. For example, it was common practice to publish measured sections, well logs, and analyses that formed the basis of a county geologic study or map. With increased publication costs this data are at best archived. The result is an original work that is difficult to replicate, validate, or modify to new needs or research opportunities. The resource investment required to reproduce published research may take many months and forms a barrier to technology transfer of fundamental, regional or site specific geoscience research. This barrier is a significant impediment to merging results from disparate scientific fields into research solutions for societal problems and useful scientific information for policy decisions. The shortening life cycles of technology and the needs for cross-discipline research require a change in the unit of research from the paper to an easily adapted technologic solution.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Open-File Report 96-37
Placed online Sept. 1996
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