Open Research: Science online? A contextual analysis of the debate on electronic journals in science communication
peter.suber's bookmarks 2021-03-17
Abstract: For the past few years the debate about a move from printed journals to electronic journals has been gathering momentum. As more and more literature is written on the subject, the complexity of the situation becomes apparent. What exactly is a journal? Although the modern scientific journal has a fairly rigid format, publishing procedure, and purpose, these have not always been significant features. Scientific journals began over 300 years ago as a formalisation of an extensive letter writing network across Europe. Science has changed enormously since then, and so has the scientific journal. The significance of this is that the modern scientific journal is not, when placed in historical context, a rigid object, but an evolving one. As was the case then, significant changes in science and technology today are causing calls for a new system of communication of science. Some people hail the electronic journal as the answer. While the electronic journal is an innovation using technology that is only about 20 years old, the concept of a replacement or supplement to the printed journal system is nearly as old as journals them selves. Almost from the beginning, inadequacies in the system were noticed and remedies have been attempted science. The main problem is the sheer volume of the literature. The second chapter explores the two main ways of dealing with this problem. The first is creation of bibliographic methods for controlling, ordering sand searching for the information. The second are replacements for the printed journal as the central unit in the system of science. By placing the electronic journal amongst this historical backdrop, it becomes possible to assess it in the light of other attempts to solve the problems. Is the electronic journal really something revolutionary, or is it simply another in the series of unsuccessful attempts to resolve the problem? What is it about electronic journals that many people do not consider them to be ‘real’ journal? This is an extremely complicated question, opening up a subsidiary questions such as : What is the function of the scientific journal? Where does the scientific journal fit into the system of science? What is it about scientific journals that give them the prestige they hold? Chapter 3 is an attempt to answer those questions. It delves into the journals’ involvement in the quality control system of science. This opens up discussion of the reward system of science (in which scientific journals play a starring role). To try and analyse the debate surrounding the instruction of electronic journals, it is necessary to place the arguments being used within a theoretical framework, and it is at this point that the normative and interpretative descriptions of the working of science are introduced. As with any fundamental alteration to an established system, there are many factors and institutions that will be affected. The fourth chapter is a discussion of the main professions affected by such a change. The question of who benefits from a change to electronic journals is fundamental to the eventual outcome. The forces, both institutional and personal, and their influence ion what is happening is analysed and evaluated. The final chapter presents the results of an empirical study conducted in scientists at the University of New South Wales. As scientists, their attitudes are an interesting insight into the system of science as it actually stands. Some surprising results eventuated from the study, and these are analysed in relation to several of the theoretical framework used in the main body of the thesis. This is a thesis that begins and ends with a question. It is not possible to accurately predict whether electronic journals will be introduced as a major factor in science, but I hope that this work adds positively to the lively and contemporary debate.