Science publishers (and authors) please take note.

I have for perhaps the last 25 years been urging publishers to recognise how science publishing could and should change. My latest thoughts are published in an article entitled “The past, present and future of Scientific discourse” (DOI: 10.1186/1758-2946-3-46). Here I take two articles, one published 58 years ago and one published last year, and attempt to reinvent some aspects. You can see the result for yourself (since this journal is laudably open access, and you will not need a subscription). The article is part of a special issue, arising from a one day symposium held in January 2011 entitled “Visions of a Semantic Molecular Future” in celebration of Peter Murray-Rust’s contributions over that period (go read all 15 articles on that theme in fact!).

Here I want to note just two features, which I have also striven to incorporate into many of the posts this blog (which in one small regard I have attempted to formulate as an experimental test-bed for publishing innovations). Scalable-Vector-Graphics (SVG) emerged around the turn of the millennium as a sort of HTML for images. To my knowledge, no science publisher has yet made it an intrinsic part of their publishing process (although gratifyingly all modern browsers support at least a sub-set of the format). Until now (perhaps). Thus 10.1186/1758-2946-3-46 contains diagrams in SVG, but you will need to avoid the Acrobat version, and go straight to the HTML version to see them. However, what sparked my noting all of this here was the recent announcement by Amazon that they are adopting a new format for their e-books, which they call Kindle Format 8 or KF8 (the successor to their Mobi7 format). To quote: “Technical and engineering books are created more efficiently with Cascading Style Sheet 3 formatting, nested tables, boxed elements and Scalable Vector Graphics“. This is wrapped in HTML5 to be able to provide (inter alia) a rich interactive experience for the reader. In fairness, there is also the more open epub3 which strives for the same. Other features of HTML5 include embedded chemistry using WebGL and the same mechanisms are being used for the construction of modern chemical structure drawing packages.

It remains to be seen how much of all of this will be adopted by mainstream chemistry publishers. Here, we do get into something of a cyclic argument. I suspect the publishers will argue that few of the authors that contribute to their journals will send them copy in any of these new formats and that it would be too expensive for them to re-engineer these articles with little or no help from such authors. The chemistry researchers who do the writing (perhaps composition might be a better word?) might argue there is little point in adopting innovative formats if the publishers do not accept them (I will point out that my injection of SVG into the above article did have some teething problems). For example, you will not find SVG noted in any of the “instructions for authors” in most “high impact journals” (or, come to that, HTML5).

If one looks at the 25 year old period, in 1986 all chemistry journals were distributed exclusively on paper. My office shelves still show the scars of bearing the weight of all that paper. Move on 25 years, and all journals almost without exception are now distributed electronically. I suspect the outcome in many a reader’s hands is simply that they (rather than the publisher) now bear the printing costs themselves (despite or perhaps because of the introduction of electronic binders such as Mendeley). But it will only be when the article itself grows out of its printable constraints, and hops onto mobile devices such as Kindles and iPads in the promised (scientifically) interactive and data-rich form, that the true revolution will start taking place.

A final observation: you will not readily obtain the interactive features of 10.1186/1758-2946-3-46 on e.g. an iPad or Kindle because the Java-based Jmol is not supported on either. But Jmol has now been ported to Android, and its certainly one to watch.

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3 Responses to “Science publishers (and authors) please take note.”

  1. Angel says:

    Hi Henry
    Your DOI link fails with an error
    Error – DOI Not Found

  2. Henry Rzepa says:

    Yes, although the publisher has allocated a DOI, it has not been registered yet.

  3. […] have previously mentioned scalable vector graphics (SVG) as an alternative, and fortunately the production of such has […]

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