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.


Blogger Anna said...

Thanks for the interview! The full text is now online at


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