SINN03: Panel Discussion on Scientific Publication Systems

Sorry folks, I did not have time to attend the whole SINN03 conference. Even the day I was there Friday, I only had time and the power to blog the panel discussion (I was at that time still recovering from an ear infection which made me feel exhausted and uncoordinated).The podium discussion focused on “Distributed vs. Centralized Systems: Funding and Maintenance of International Services” and was chaired by Elmar Mittler, SUB Göttingen. The other members:
– Edward A. Fox, Virginia Tech
– Eberhard R. Hilf, ISN Oldenburg
– Rainer Kuhlen, Universität Konstanz
– Hans E. Roosendaal, University of Twente
– Hans-Joachim Wätjen, BIS OldenburgThe moderator started the discussion by asking Kuhlen “How do you see the development of scientific publication systems?”Kuhlen answered that there are 3 general tendencies or possible scenarios:1. Scenario: Total commercialization of scientific publishing:
Publishers would be responsible for the dissemination of scientific content and the public (e.g. universities) rely on this market and pay a high price in terms of loosing control about the scientific publishing market.

2. Scenario: Competition between commercial and “public” content providers
Content will also be provided by public institutions, but you have to pay for it. This will change the way scientists access information as they are used to using libraries for free.

3. Scenario: Scientific institutions will organise the text collections themselves. This will not be done by direct publishing, but organised in a network of institutions. The question remains what role the traditional commercial publishers will play: “Will they be the dinosaurs that eventually vanish away or will they become partners of the scientists?”

The moderator then asked Rosendaal whether scientific publishing services already matter?

Rosendaal answered that he advocates scenario 3 and believes that scenario 1 is not likely to happen, because such a system would simply explode. For a realistic analysis of the current situation, he proposed to look at the negotiation powers of the stakeholds involved:

Authors:
– Scientific services should convince them that they are useful incentives for them
– In general, incentives should be created that value the author for his research
Universities:
– They would have a very strong position when they realized that they have to build an infrastructure
– Unfortunately, they are too fragmented
– The problem he sees is that universities tend to take a scientific approach to professional management
In general, Rosendaal propagated that we should change the system how we rate and evaluate research. Also a better international appraisal system is needed to support an authors career path. Scientific publication systems should rather be author-payed systems.

Wätjen added that within these many scientific initiatives are footpaths, not streets or highways. His proposal is to start at every institution to offer repositories with open access to pre-prints as well as post-prints. He sees a future for university presses with open access business models.

Posing a devil’s advocate question, the moderator asked Hilf about the “dream” of open document exchange systems. Hilf replied that it’s important create a variety of services, serving different needs and different ways of archiving. Following Hilf, Fox suggested “Let’s creatively think through what packaging of the author and the reader would work”. He exemplified his concerns: “Students want to see other dissertation to learn from them, how to survive at university.” Furthermore, he stated that scientific journals usually have a lower quality then conferences.

Fox sees three kinds of services for scientific publishing:
– Zero cost services are community efforts adhering to the a buttom-up approach
– Little cost services are maintained by universities, mainly due to their teaching duty
– High cost services are funded by the state, e.g. the creation of a US-wide digital library, supported by the National Science Foundation with 130 Mio dollars. Those services come along with a top-down approach.

Summarizing his comments, Fox said that the ethic of sharing works for some people, for some it does not.

I was baffled that the panel only thought of beautifully carved scientific texts when discussing scientific publication systems. So I posed the question to the panel “What actually is a scientific publication system?”. I mentioned Harvard Weblogs and the role they play in scientific communication.

Kuhlen added that he regards Weblogs as an important part of scientific communication. They offer the possibility to put knowledge on the scientific market without a peer review within a self-evolving system. He calls such texts “open collaborative documents”. Wätjen stressed the aspect that Weblogs conform with a constructivistic look at e-learning. Kuhlen and Rosendaal nevertheless see quality assurance as an important process in scientific publishing.

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