Thursday, December 21, 2006

Details about PhysMath Central

So, earlier this week I was interviewed for a longer article by the people at First Author.

I thought it would be good to share my answers with you all as it gives an insight into what we are planning for in terms of functionality for PhysMath Central. I should have stated that some of these features may not be there on launch, but it gives our development team something to aim for [sorry guys]. In any case they will be there very soon afterwards.

[FA] How do you think the research needs and/ or interests of the Physics and Maths
differ from those of biomedical researchers? How will you service cater for these

In most respects they are very similar, but physicists (and latterly mathematicians) were very prescient in seeing the benefits that the internet offers in terms of dissemination of research material, which is no real surprise given the origins of the Web. However, what is missing from is the validation and quality branding that a rigourous peer review process brings. This is why arXiv and traditional journals enjoyed a symbiotic relationship for many years. What we are hearing now from scientists is that once this peer-review process has taken place, they want those results available for free to everyone and not 'locked-up' in subscription journals. This is where open access comes in. With a history of supporting OA for many years in the biosciences, BioMed Central was well placed to expand its reach into the physical sciences.

Physicists and mathematcians do have their own habits which differ to the biosciences though, and we will be accomodating these habits with our journals. What this means in practice is that authors can submit articles in TeX format, submit directly from arXiv and even submit to PhysMath Central and arXiv simultaneously. We will also link to the main databases in physics and provide support for multi-author uploads (where there are 10s or 100s of authors) and specialist publishing entities such as astronomical objects. We will also be adopting the standard PACS and MCS codes for physics and mathematics classifications.

[FA] The physics and maths academic communities were pioneering in their adoption
of open access, notably with the founding of Arxiv. You also have experience in the commercial sector. How will you work with and borrow from the experience of both these sectors?

We are a commercial company provding an open access service. From a commercial standpoint open access makes sense. Scientists are demanding it and it is almost seen as unethical in some fields to publish results in a subscription journal. It is difficult to see the future of subscription journals as rosy.

But open access does not necessarily imply 'free'. If we are based on a sound financial footing, that bodes well for the long-term future of open access. We are not dependent on grants or philanthropy and will be able to grow with the growing interest in open access in the future.

[FA] You recently promised to take advantage of new technologies to communicate research
findings clearly and to meet the challenges of the future. Can you give some examples of these
technologies and how you believe they will change the ways scientists research, collaborate and publish?

Sure - this is one of the most exciting parts of working in open access. Not only can we develop tools and services around our data, but anyone can. All articles are available, for free, to anyone in fully-formed XML, so we hope to see some suite of services like 'Google Labs' develop around this data.

However, for our part we intend to use new technology to support the scientific process in many ways. Apart from the tight arXiv integration already mentioned we are also going to use wikis with the editorial board members to refine the scope of the journals, journal blogs to inform everyone of editorial developments, OAI-PMH to update A&I services, RSS for journal content updates, multimedia to support the online text, comments from readers on each article, and we are very keen in working on ways to further structure and open up our data to other services. Other developments, such as 'tagging' of articles and refining the peer-review process will be considered if there is an appetite for it from the community we serve.

There is also an increasing drive to make raw data of experimental results available alongside the article itself. For particle collision data, for example, this would be problematic given the sheer volume of data - but this barrier will come down with time and for some fields it is already possible to publish raw data, so we will be investigating this option in the coming weeks.

The post before Christmas

Heathrow airport is not a happy place this week, especially as I spent several hours trying to get back there this week. I'll spare you the details but if I were tagging the experience, it would run something like this: airport BA cancelled fog bastards redirect dusseldorf cancelled retry amsterdam wrong_voucher pleading hooray landed dealyed_again home taxi m4 breakdown fifty_quid.

Obviously not ideal and its still going on. If you have any options, avoid LHR for the forseeable future.

In other news, it seems that arXiv are delaying the implementation of their 4-figure archive identifiers, until March 2007 at least, to allow for proper testing [from an email from admin]. Seems reasonable enough, especially for librarians who have yet to update systems based on 3-figure identifiers. I wonder if this launch will coincide with the launch of the new archive names and super-archives in astrophysics, high-energy, nuclear and condmat/AMO?

PLoS One has launched. I'll post some more on this soon.

Nature's experiment with open peer review has come to a halt due to a lack of enthusiasm for it.

Using blogs in a research environment for physics.

I also did a brief interview with First Author about PhysMath Central this week. Q&A to follow...

Friday, December 15, 2006

A week is a long time in anything

For various reasons I have been offline for the best part of a week, and it is amazing to see just how much has happened in that week. Blogs, RSS and email have made communication easier, but also faster and more bountiful. I wonder how people ever got anything done in the olden days (probably very easily as they didn't have these 'distractions'!).

Anyway, here's what grabbed my interest when I made it back online and ploughed through my emails:
AIP’s mission and policy is to achieve that widest dissemination of the research results and other information we publish.
• Since the arrival of the Web, AIP believes it has achieved wider and more affordable dissemination than ever before in history, with more subscribers, more readers and more libraries and other institutions and people using our journals than ever before. Some use them free or at very low cost under various open access models.
• AIP believes it has been extremely successful in using and investing in technology and new online platforms towards that end.
• AIP has instituted and experimented with many business models, including free and open access. AIP believes that publishers should be free to experiment with various business models in the market place of ideas and economics.
• AIP is fearful of and against government mandates that provides rules in favor of one business model over another.
• AIP is against funding agencies mandating free access to articles after they have undergone costly peer review or editing by publishers.
AIP is against the government posting or distributing free copies of articles that publishers have invested in producing.
• AIP believes that funding agencies have every right to report their results to the public, but that if they choose to use publisher-produced, peer-reviewed material to do that, then the publisher should receive appropriate compensation.
• AIP is also fearful about what government agencies might do with articles they receive under any deposit system.
In particular, AIP is fearful of mission creep with government agencies using the deposited material beyond the goal of public access, for example in enhanced publications that compete with the private sector.
See Peter Suber's comments here.

Of course none of this matters when the articles and journals are fully open access and licensed under Creative Commons, as those from PhysMath Central will be.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A moving experience

Sorry for the slow down on the blogging front recently - I've been busy moving house. Yes, finally, after 2 months of surveys, solicitors and sellers, we can settle down into our Victorian terrace in Chesham. Only the unpacking and redecorating to do before Christmas now!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Peoples Archive

Working in the same building as BioMed Central, Faculty of 1000 and countless other companies (well, several!) I am still being surprised at some of the things I am finding out. One of the most pleasant surprises has been the discovery of the Peoples Archive - strapline: Great People Telling Their Life Stories.

This is a wonderful resource. For physicists, spend a couple of hours watching Freeman Dyson or Murray Gell-Mann telling you about their life to date. Mathematicians can see Benoit Mandelbrot and biologists, Francis Crick.
[perservere if there are streaming problems, its worth it.]

The recent demise of Crick highlights what an invaluable resource this could be in years to come. Documenting the histories of some of our greatest thinkers and making them available on the web makes this a very inspiring diversion on the web.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The plusses and pitfalls of physics co-authorship

One thing which is occupying a lot of my thinking at the moment is the concept of co-authorship in scientific papers. Apparently I'm not alone in contemplating this at the moment. Must be something to do with the clear winter air.

Apart from the usual benefits (and possible negatives) of co-authoring a paper, the world of high-energy physics (HEP) has an unusual situtation where hundreds of people can be listed as co-authors. See this paper for an example of 'hyperauthorship'. This arises due to the unique nature of the large experimental apparatus which the physicists work on - much too large to be funded by a single insitution. Thus, large international groups form around these facilities to work on specific experiments (such as CMS and ATLAS at CERN).

So far so good, but HEP has a history of extremely inclusive author lists - so all members of a collaboration are often listed on any paper authored by any member of that group (so long as it relates to their particular experiments).

This, naturally, leads one to question what it means to be a co-author of a HEP paper. How much work has gone into a specific article by each member of the group? Could one outstanding member be responsible for building up the reputation of inactive or less-gifted colleagues? Given that many academic positions in physics, as in other disciplines, relies on the frequency and authority of published research - it is no surprise that this matter has attracted the attention of other researchers.
For a much more comprehensive and indepth investigation into this phenomenon, see Jeremy Birnholtz's paper 'What does it mean to be an author: The intersection of credit, contribution and collaboration in science'. I believe this was recently published by the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technolgy, but a preprint version is available from Jeremy's site.