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Electronic Scientific, Technical, and Medical Journal Publishing and its Implications: Proceedings of a Symposium 1. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS Bruce Alberts, National Academy of Sciences This symposium is part of a longstanding effort of the National Academies to promote wise policies for science. The important functions of scientific publication from a policy perspective include scientific validation, the dissemination of information, and the specific obligations created when an author publishes. The scientific validation function of publication is accomplished by peer review and by editing to ensure that the science is sound. These processes also ensure that the data and the methods are complete and clearly presented. This is what distinguishes the information in scientific journals from the vast amount of other material that is also on the Internet. There are many publications that make a false claim to be scientific, and since the seventeenth century the scientific community itself has organized to discriminate between what is, and what is not, good science. Without this discrimination, science could not move steadily forward by building upon what has already been discovered. Publication also has a critical dissemination function. That is what is largely motivating this symposium, because the Internet is a radically new way to disseminate scientific information. This powerful communication channel greatly enhances the potential reach of science; it allows us to include nations and people who would otherwise not be reachable. Equally important, by creating powerful search engines that can rapidly find desired information, we can make much better use of the vast store of data and scientific information available. We could do a lot better, however. For instance, there are great opportunities for data mining that have not yet been adequately exploited. In addition, there are many journals that are still not available in electronic form. Moreover, foreign journals are not comprehensively abstracted by U.S. services such as PubMed. Science is an international activity, and we need to make the knowledge that is developed everywhere more readily available to other scientists. Our own journal is the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). We have tried to set an example by making its electronic version as widely available as possible. The entire 16,000 pages each year of PNAS are immediately available free on the Internet to those in most developing nations, and this information can be freely accessed by everyone after a six-month delay. The National Academies publish all of our reports through the National Academies Press. This is a different kind of scientific literature—the results of consensus studies on issues such as the health effects of arsenic in drinking water, the science of climate change, and thousands of other topics. There are about 10 years’ worth of National Academies reports—some 2,900 books—online, all readable page by page. In addition, the PDF files for these reports are made freely available to anyone in 130 developing nations. What about the obligations of authors? The National Academies held a workshop in February 2002 that was sponsored by the Board of Life Sciences entitled "Sharing Publication-related Data and Materials: Responsibilities of Authorship in the Life Sciences." Tom Cech, the head of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, was the chair of the committee that organized this event. The final report from the workshop contained the following statement: The publication of scientific information is intended to move science forward. More specifically, the act of publishing is a quid pro quo in which authors receive credit and acknowledgement in exchange for disclosure of their scientific findings, providing them a forum on which other scientists can build with further research. An author, therefore, has the obligation to release both data and materials to enable others to verify and extend published findings.
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Electronic Scientific, Technical, and Medical Journal Publishing and its Implications: Proceedings of a Symposium Publication therefore creates important obligations on the part of the authors that need to be enforced, both through the grant agencies that fund the research and through the journals that publish the work. It is only with this kind of sharing, enforced by the scientific community, that the public’s generous support of knowledge production through scientific research can produce its intended benefits.
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