German Journal of Psychiatry

ISSN 1433-1055


The Future of Scientific Publishing


By Borwin Bandelow (bbandel@gwdg.de






The future of reading scientific papers

More and more scientific Internet journals are going online, while established printed journals have their own websites and provide full-text articles on the Internet. For example, the renowned psychiatric journals Archives of General Psychiatry and American Journal of Psychiatry have their own web pages where readers from all over the world can access their full-text articles. Some journals appear only on the Internet and do not have a printed version at all (e.g., this journal or Psychiatry On-Line). However, some readers may say "I'm a little old-fashioned, I would prefer to have a paper copy of the journal." No problem. By simply clicking on the print button of your browser you can have a paper version. Some journals provide a version that can be read with Adobe Acrobat Reader (see an example), which means that it looks just like the "real thing".

But you don’t have to clutter up your room with piles of paper. It might be more sensible to save the whole article on your hard disk or just save the Internet address where you can retrieve the article whenever you need it (assuming that the address stays the same and the website does not close down). This will dramatically reduce the time you spend cataloging and storing reprints in your office.

Internet articles may contain colored graphs, photographs, X-ray pictures, PET scans, or even video sequences, without any additional costs. Hyperlinks to the cited references make it easy to access the original literature.

You have the opportunity to get in touch with the author directly by means of the E-mail address provided in the article.

The advantages of Internet publishing are obvious. First, there is the timesaving effect. Until recently, authors had to send their articles by mail, the editor sent them to the referees, the referees sent back their reviews, then the editor sent the reviews back to the authors, who amended their manuscripts, sent them back again, and so on. Thus, there was always a considerable loss of time just from sending the manuscripts by mail at least five times. Simply sending manuscripts by E-mail can now reduce this time. Unfortunately, modern communications techniques are not sufficient to guarantee that referees send their reviews back on time.

Even when a manuscript has been accepted, it usually takes several months for the publisher to do the layout and send the galley proofs back to the authors. The journal then has to be printed and distributed. What is more, journals do not necessarily publish papers straight away, even if the galley proofs have already been corrected, because you have to wait for the next issue to appear. There might be not enough articles to fill one issue, or there might be too many to fit in one issue.

Usually it takes at least one year from the first submission of a paper until the reader holds the printed journal in his hands. This is much too long for fast-moving sciences like medicine. There are still other ways in which scientists can inform themselves about new research findings, e.g. at conferences. However, articles printed in scientific journals have the advantage that they have undergone a thorough review process to make sure that no unapproved information is circulated.

With Internet publishing, however, a couple of weeks after the last patient has finished a clinical study, we are now able to read about the results in a journal. Patients have the advantage of getting much faster access to new treatments.

This is particularly important for scientists in developing countries who do not have access to a library. The postcard with a reprint request will become a thing of the past. This will surely have a positive impact on the treatment of patients in third-world countries.

The costs of producing journals and getting scientific information will be reduced dramatically. In a normal university, large amounts of money are spent on journal subscriptions, libraries, librarians, photocopies, etc. Both time and money can be saved if the articles are read directly in the Internet. You can subscribe to an electronic journal and pay just for the articles you're interested in and not for the whole issue. Some journals will also provide the information free of charge, like this journal.

The future of writing scientific papers

Some authors spend one third of the time it takes to write a scientific article on organizing the references. Today, you can search for articles on the topic in which you're interested in the Internet, e.g. in PubMed or other sources. Only abstracts have been available there up to now, but there will be direct hyperlinks to the journals in the near future. Then you will be able to download the full-text articles that will increasingly be available at the journals' websites. When preparing the reference list, you can download the references directly from the Internet into your bibliography software (e.g., Endnote or Reference Manager). These programs manage all your references and can directly co-operate with your word processor. While writing your manuscript, you just have to leave a citation mark in the text. When you have finished writing, the bibliography program looks for all citations in the text and puts a complete reference list at the end of the manuscript. If your article has not been accepted by a high-quality journal and you have decided to submit it to the "Journal of Irreproducible Results" or the "Archives of Negative Results", then you don’t have to change your whole article because the new journal uses numbered citations instead of author names. The bibliography software does the job for you. These programs also can store the web addresses of articles available on the Internet.


Internet publishing does have a few disadvantages. First, scientific material presented on the Internet is easily accessible to everyone and not only to the academic world. Every author publishing medical articles on the Internet must be aware that not only doctors but also patients can read their articles. However, this is not necessarily a disadvantage in all cases.

Now that reading and writing scientific articles is much easier and scientists can spend more time on getting their results than on publishing them, we must be aware that there will be more and more articles with more and more references, which might reduce the overall quality of scientific publishing.

However, with all the advantages that Internet publishing will bring, the way in which scientific information is accessed will be completely revolutionized within the next five to ten years.