Scientists Don’t Want to become Desktop Publishers

David K Lynch, who himself was former section editor of Journal of Optical Society of America is angry that publishing houses are more and more pushing scientists to do the work of typesetting.  In a letter to the editor of Physics Today titled Scientists Dont Want New Careers in Desktop Publishing (Physics Today 20 March 2006) Lynch laments that  publishing houses are pressurizing scientists to share the work of desktop publishing. 

I see this problem differently.  The volume of work done by scientists in getting their works published has not increased significantly, but the nature has changed.  Imagine how much time one might have to spend in creating a camera-ready experimental set-up drawing that using Indian-ink Rotring 0.3mm pen (it need to be cleaned after every use else the ink clogs the tip) getting it revised and including it with the manuscript (or more complexly, chasing the draughtsman and typist to do these works).  I am sure publishers insisted about the nature of the paper used, kind of ink,  the pen thickness and so forth those days, in as much as the point size, file format etc now.  I myself have taken photos in Scanning Electron Microscope using 35 mm film, developed in dark room, printed in simple papers first for my studies and eventually in publisher specified glossy papers for my manuscripts.  Now life is simple, I just save what I see in my microscope monitor and move to my laptop, do all my analysis using monitor view and just attach the same as I send it for publication (the same is getting pasted in my web page, in my grant proposals and press releases).  Sure, we all spend hours downloading LaTeX style files and adhering to the style specs as we type the manuscript, but I do not see this any different from searching for a typewriter with appropriate fonts and a quality carbon paper that will retain impression in the 5th copy and using the right kind of Letter size paper as they typed their manuscripts. 

However, Lynch is currect when he refers to the publishers.  Their job has become disproportionately simplified to the point of being unfair.  They just receive the manuscript in camera ready format and forward it for publication.  Yes, they are reaping the benefits of technologies while continuing to keep  scientists do their slave parts.  They have not reduced page charges either.

This can not continue for long, I hope.  Publishing houses are slowly losing their values.  Now, I hear about a colleague’s work through his emails and his web sites or even blogs.  The value of printed research articles is continuing to shrink to a point where it has almost become insignificant.  people keep publishing only to maintain their publication record.  A different form of peer reviewed information dissemination is emerging and the houses better watch out.


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