Focus on Committees
2002 POC Chair: Beverly Berger of the National Science Foundation (left); 2001 POC Chair : Mark A. Riley of Florida State University in Tallahassee
Of all the various activities of the APS, the paramount one in terms of both human and financial resources is the publishing of the peer-reviewed research journals that carry out the organization's central mission to "diffuse the knowledge of physics." And overseeing all such research publication activities is the 11-person Publications Oversight Committee.
Last fiscal year, fully three-quarters of the entire annual APS operating budget and nearly two-thirds of all APS employees were devoted to research publication activities. According to Michael Stephens, the APS Director of Finance, research publications accounted for $27.6 million of the Society's overall fiscal 2001 budget of $37.1 million. In addition, 140 of the Society's 211 employees are employed in publication activities.
Among the 11 members of the Publications Oversight Committee (POC) are the three APS operating officers: the Executive Officer, the Treasurer, and the Editor-in-Chief. In addition, there is a POC Chair appointed by the APS President from among the remaining eight members. The POC Chair in 2001 was Mark A. Riley of Florida State University in Tallahassee. Taking over in 2002 is Beverly Berger of the National Science Foundation.
"The POC is a very important committee because it proposes guidelines for the operational philosophy of APS publications and oversees the general editorial policy," Riley says. "Publishing the finest research and review journals in physics is one of the greatest achievements of the APS and we want to keep that going."
Riley outlined two broad areas of concern before the committee, more recent electronic access and information systems issues and the long-standing journal quality issue.
Riley said an "electronic revolution" is underway that raises a range of related topics, such as submissions, reducing staff paperwork, pricing for new electronic databases, and staffing levels and salaries.
"In this electronic revolution, things can happen swiftly. APS has spearheaded the on-line systems like PROLA and many other publishers are following in our steps," he said. "One of the tasks of POC is to keep us going in those directions. One example is how do you deal with the pricing of journals in this new electronic age."
He said the move toward electronic publishing has accelerated the long-term problem of declining subscriptions for the journal hardcopies. He added that this decline has affected journals in many different fields well outside of physics, citing figures from his own university showing that subscriptions to about 2,000 separate titles have been cancelled in just the past seven years.
"We in the last year have tried to do something about this by moving to multi-tiered pricing for the journals where large institutions and research laboratories pay more for the journals than a smaller bachelors college," Riley said. "We've been very busy trying to advance that multi-tiered pricing policy. There is no doubt that it was the right thing to do and it has been well received by libraries throughout the country."
In the coming years, Riley said it is "very likely" that all APS journals will be in electronic form only because of the increased versatility this offers, while the hardcopies will be available as an "optional extra."
Echoing these sentiments is Martin Blume, APS Editor-in-Chief. "We not only have our journals on-line, but there are fairly elaborate things you can do with them. You can search the entire archive and references are linked. You can look at a particular PROLA article and find all articles that refer back to it, so you can trace it to the future. Soon we will be linking to articles from other publishers that cite our articles," Blume said.
Blume also said that within two years, APS will have software that allows all editorial handling to be done electronically. This will end an "internal editorial process that still relies heavily on paper."
The second broad area of concern before the POC deals with the long-standing journal quality issue. "We on POC obviously are concerned about maintaining the very high standard of the Physical Review," Riley said. "The POC puts together committees every five years that go through APS journals and consider ways to improve them."
The review is done chiefly through survey work. "They have about a year, and it is a long, serious job, to get surveys out and try to get feedback from that particular physics community on how they feel about their particular Physical Review journal."
Staying on top of APS publishing activities keeps the POC very busy. "The POC meets three times a year and we've started a new policy of a two-day meeting in May, which I think was a great success [because] there are a lot of things to discuss," Riley said. "These are very interesting times for scientific publishing. While APS is sitting on the crest of a wave, we always have to be vigilant to maintain our status. It is good to discuss the future and how to do things properly."
— Richard M. Todaro