CHWP D.1 Kling & Covi, "Electronic Journals"

6. Field shifts

Some key technological demographics will change considerably in the next two decades. More colleges and universities will wire many more of their faculties' offices and labs, although some campuses face daunting costs and complexities in cabling older stone buildings or cabling scattered buildings in dense urban districts.

Despite a cornucopia of new information that might be rapidly accessible, scholars will still work and live within a 168-hour week that does not expand. Active scholars often work sixty- to seventy-hour weeks, and are mindful of their time. Their attention is a precious resource. And publications in which editors or indexers help them focus on what they believe are the highest-quality articles and reports are now and will remain at a premium.

We suspect that there will be many more electronic indexing systems that help point scholars to paper-based journals and conferences (see above). We did not cover the sharing of datasets and software, but it is likely that there will be more specialties in which scholars share these costly intellectual resources via computer networks (much in the way that molecular biologists within very specialized communities use flybase, genbank, and the protein database). Doubtless, more scholars will post preprints and reprints of articles on services like the World Wide Web (WWW). But will scholarly electronic publishing become legitimate and routine in this same time frame?

Andrew Odlyzko (1995) argues that the demise of p-journals is inevitable, and Harnad (in press) argues that academics should immediately abandon p-journals and publish in e-journals. These arguments focus on the technical process and economic costs of distributing e-journals (in contrast with paper). We have tried to locate journal publication within a larger social system of scholarly communication. And, within this frame, the rapid demise of p-journals seems less likely. We are specially impressed by the way that molecular biologists who routinely share DNA sequences via genbank circulate paper preprints rather than electronic preprints. This might be a technological peculiarity which will shift as soon as 1200-dpi printers cost as little as a Laserjet (or Laserwriter). But there are deeper social relationships in scientific communities that influence these patterns.

Most academics now view electronic publishing as experimental, at best. The segregation of e-journals into an electronic space that isn't (yet) integrated into the scholarly document systems of libraries, indices, abstracting services, and so on is a formula for continued marginality. In addition, commercial publishers are only cautiously experimenting with allowing the full text of p-journals to be licensed for electronic access (as in Elsevier's TULIP project). All paper-based publishers are wary that unlimited on-line access to journal articles will erode their subscription base, and they have not yet developed good electronic subscription models to supplement paper publication. Scholars are used to unlimited access to journals that they subscribe to, and have relatively little enthusiasm for pay-per-use models for electronic access. There is little empirical guidance at this time for publishers to learn how different forms of e-journal dissemination will amplify, synergize with, or erode their revenues.

The scholarly societies are possible loci of change in the systems of scholarly communication. The American Mathematical Society and the Association for Computing Machinery are both exploring electronic publication. These societies could experiment with posting electronic preprints of articles accepted for their p-journals as a form of member service. Since the membership fees in scholarly associations cover diverse "memberships services" as well as some journal subscriptions, the associations have some flexibility in shifting their investments, services and pricing. In contrast, the commercial publishers only offer a set of journals and draw their revenues exclusively from direct subscriptions and related post-publishing income (such as permissions fees). Even so, we would predict more rapid rates of change in the overall scholarly communications systems if many associations and publishers were actively experimenting with electronic formats, rather than just a few.

Part of the dilemma is in encouraging prestigious scholars to take the risk of publishing in e-journals, or in electronic extensions of traditional p-journals to help enhance their legitimacy. The polymorphous model of the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research offers some promise in the technologically savvy scientific associations, since they already publish their own p-journals. The other main shifts in the next two decades -- perhaps more likely in many fields -- is that scholars will share some of their preprints with colleagues via field-specific or departmental WWW servers (or whatever technologies follow after WWW).

These changes in scholarly communication could be accelerated if a critical mass of the highest-status scientists in a given field were willing to publish their best work in electronic media. However, the highest-status scientists have the least to gain in terms of personal visibility and prestige in such moves. And scholars whose status is just a bit lower are likely to publish in the same journals as the highest-status scientists. And so on down the prestige hierarchies, until one reaches scientists who have trouble publishing in 1st- and 2nd-tier journals, and who have "less to lose." To the extent that scholarly communication takes place within a system of prestige that extends well beyond the immediate sub-disciplinary groupings, social change will be slower than if technical and economic conditions alone drove the scientific world.

Hess, Sproull, Kiesler and Walsh (1993) argue that networked discussion lists help improve the visibility and influence of scholars who are outside an inner circle within a field -- i.e. those who are in lower-status institutions, institutions with weaker programs in a particular specialty, and those who are lower-ranked. Electronic publication might also give these people greater visibility, if their e-journal articles were read by scholars in more prestigious positions or more central locations. Today, e-journals can be read worldwide by scholars and students with modest access to the Internet. But e-journals' isolation in a kind of ghostly netherworld of academic publishing doesn't help those who publish in them to be seen by prestigious and established scholars whose intellectual blood circulates in oral and paper networks.

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