Should the Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences (JMAS) continue to be published in paper form or should we move to electronic format? This question is raised for two reasons. First, several Academy members have objected to page charges. Outside of the sciences, most people expect to be paid for their creative output. Within the sciences, members of some disciplines have come to expect page charges while others are accustomed to publishing without cost. In either case, scientists in academia are not usually recompensed directly for their creativity. The second consideration is the growing influence of the internet, not only on JMAS, but on all scholarly journals. The cost of paper journals is increasing faster than any institutional budget can bear. The cost of electronic publishing promises an affordable alternative, both to the individual by removing or, at least, lowering page charges, and to the institution by lowering the costs of journal subscriptions. Publishing on the internet is potentially faster and cheaper than paper and allows the use of color, sound, motion, and hypertext links to enhance key points any author is trying to make far more effectively than any paper copy could do.
The Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences is designed to bring reports of science in Mississippi to the attention of Academy members and other interested persons. It is also designed as an outlet for creative work by Mississippi scientists. Whether the journal moves to an electronic format or remains a paper journal should be decided based on what best serves Academy members and journal authors within reasonable financial constraints.
I recently read an interesting article on the internet that predicted the demise of all scientific journals in paper form within five years. The authors viewed the paper journal and peer review system as antiquated. They pointed to change that will surely come to scientific journals as a result of the internet and suggested a scenario in which all scientists had their own web page. Research was published on individual pages for "post review." The function of editors was to search web pages for the "best" articles and assemble, not the articles, but links to them. The role of the journal was to give prestige to the best papers; to point out the best places for interested individuals to browse. The authors of this vision went on to suggest the use of sound, color, motion, and hypertext links that would caste research in 'comic book' form to enhance our understanding of the work being presented. Cognitive theory, the authors argue, indicates that we learn better from multimedia. Thus, research presented in that fashion would be more meaningful.
The rapidly rising costs of paper journals and the appeal of inexpensive electronic publishing is such that the demise of paper journals is inevitable. But before we rush to bury a system that has served us well for several hundred years, let us first make sure we have something of value with which to replace it. Let us proceed cautiously. I have one very serious concern about electronic publishing that I believe must be answered before we abandon paper journals. I am concerned about the mechanism for long-term archiving. The entire human endeavor, and science in particular, is a building process. We cannot pass the vast body of information and wisdom from one generation to the next by spoken word alone. We must record our knowledge in written form. The distribution and maintenance of paper copies of anything worth writing has been the major mechanism by which information has been preserved. Copies might be lost or destroyed and some valuable works have been lost completely, but much has survived. The danger of electronic publishing is that each paper journal presumably resides in one location. Our journal, for example, would reside on one computer somewhere in Mississippi. If through politics, financial considerations, or disinterest, the journal or parts of it were discontinued, i.e., erased from computer memory and storage, no change of mind or attitude in the future would matter. It would be gone forever. Some written works should be lost in the dust bin of history, but with paper copies the loss is slow over a period of time with many individuals able to make the decision to keep copies or reprint what to them seems valuable. Electronic publishing as presented in the internet vision described above does not hold that promise of permanence. I have no answer for the problem of providing an archive for electronically published material. Financial realities are driving paper journals into electronic publishing, perhaps too fast.
Should the Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences continue to be published in paper form or should we move to electronic format? I am soliciting opinions from members. As a starting point, I shall make a suggestion for a hybrid journal that includes paper and electronic elements: All the Academy news would be published in paper form. This has the advantage of reaching all the members and bringing to their attention such items as the annual call for papers. I do not believe that even a paper reminder to look on the Academy web page will be as forceful a means of bringing the Academy to its members as the journal delivered to their desks. I suggest that abstracts of all research articles be published in paper form. Whether or not the body of the paper is published in paper form or electronically would be at the author's discretion. Authors willing to pay page charges would have the entire text of their manuscript in paper. Authors preferring electronic publication or wishing to avoid page charges would have only the abstract in paper form. The paper abstract would alert interested readers about the article on the Academy website and represent a halfway measure for my concerns about archiving.
I need your opinions in order to guide this journal into a new era in a manner that best serves its readers. I invite you to write to me with your opinions about paper journals versus electronic journals and the future of JMAS.--Ken Curry