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International News

Workshops Explore Future of Telecommunications, E-Publications

UNESCO Electronic Publishing in Science - Representatives from the APS, libraries, academia, and scientific publishers gathered at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, on 19 February for an expert conference on electronic publishing in science. Organized by UNESCO and ICSU Press, the conference was intended to explore the current tools and standards, as well as legal and ethical issues associated with the revolution in information technology.

"Electronic publishing has radically altered scientific transactions in the physical sciences," said Irving Lerch, APS director of international scientific affairs, adding that growing numbers of scientists exchange frontier information in freely distributed non-refereed preprints, while journal publishers are rapidly moving to restricted-access online archival journals.

In fact, a new regime of electronic or "gray" media, characterized by hypertext and linked graphical displays, is subsuming many aspects of traditional print exchanges. Questions remain as to whether this will further impede the availability of scientific literature in developing and "redeveloping" countries, or will facilitate access to it. Another issue, according to Lerch, is whether electronic publishing will unite colleagues or dissipate much-needed - and increasingly limited - resources. This was the focus of a workshop organized by the UNESCO Physics Action Council working group on telecommunications networks for science and APS on the fist day of the conference.

The morning session featured nine plenary lectures covering trends of electronic publishing in industrialized countries; the role of electronic technologies in relieving the shortage of scientific literature in developing countries; programs and proposals for promoting the availability of scientific literature; and collaborations between industrial and developing countries, as well as regional collaborations. In the afternoon, two panel discussions focused on the impact of electronic publishing on literature availability, and how to find the right mix of technologies to meet the needs of developing countries.

APS Treasurer Harry Lustig outlined some of the major new challenges facing scientific societies with the advent of electronic publishing, including the problem of archiving, the complications of maintaining copyright protection for authors and publishers, and the economic complexities associated with publishing refereed and edited journals electronically. The APS has committed to having all its journals available electronically within five years, according to Lustig, and the current online version of Physical Review Letters is a first step in that direction.

Several speakers addressed the issue of how the copyright system should evolve to protect the interests of publishers. Thomas Dreier of the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Patent, Copyright and Competition Law in Munich, provided the historical context for the issue, maintaining that the copyright system has successfully adapted to new distribution techniques such as phonograms, radio, television and video. However, he believes that the transition of copyright into the digital era will not happen as smoothly. "Digitization affects the whole body of protected works, and networking fundamentally alters the traditional means of creating, distributing and using subject matter protected by copyright," he said. "Furthermore, in a networking context, any user may himself easily become a distributor."

The remaining speakers covered other related topics, including the economics and organization of present and future scientific publishing, electronic data archiving and access, and research policies currently affecting the development of digital libraries in science and technology, with many offering examples of proposed models and initiatives aimed at overcoming these obstacles.

For instance, Paul Ginsparg of Los Alamos National Laboratory, who heads a project for automated electronic archiving of research information in many fields of physics, believes the current model of funding publishing companies through research libraries - in turn funded by overhead on research grants - is unlikely to survive in the electronic realm. "It is premised on a paper medium that was difficult to produce, distribute, archive, and duplicate, hence requiring numerous local redistribution points," he said. "The electronic medium shares none of these features and thus naturally facilitates large-scale disintermediation of research information."

NATO Networking Workshop Plans - On 5-6 February, senior academic, research and telecommunications experts from various regions of the Russian Federation and other Western and Eastern European nations gathered in St. Petersburg, Russia, to determine the content, schedule, participation, administration, funding and implementation of one or more NATO Advanced Networking workshops to be held in 1996 and beyond.

The ultimate objective of these workshops is to develop a program for training users, administrators, managers and technical support staff within the academic and research communities. Funding will be sought from NATO and a consortium of national and international foundations and agencies. Co-sponsored by UNESCO's Physics Action Council, NATO, The Euro-Asian Physical Society, and St. Petersburg State University with APS participation, the program opened with a summary of academic and research telecommunications needs and descriptions of several existing programs. Participants also engaged in panel discussions on training needs and facilities, organizational roles and collaborations, and coordination of national and international programs.

A training workshop will be convened in St. Peterburg in October with a follow-up workshop in Novosibirsk, and other workshops will be organized as needed. An international coordinating committee - formed within the UNESCO/PAC Working Group on Telecommunications Networks - will be responsible for implementing the program, with local and regional organizing committees handling planning and other arrangements.

Training will focus on technical and management issues designed to support sustainable network access. User training will be the responsibility of each organizing committee. The upcoming October workshop will also include a short orientation for senior administrators to include university, institute and government officials, and representatives of the commercial sector.


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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin