Date: Fri, 10 Sep 1999 20:49:16 +0100
From: Stevan Harnad <harnad@COGLIT.ECS.SOTON.AC.UK>
Subject: Press Release
[Forwarded with thanks from the Electronic Journal Publishing List
3rd September 1999
NIH'S E-BIOMED (PUBMED CENTRAL) DEBATED ON HMS BEAGLE
New York, September 3, 1999 - PubMed Central (nee E-BioMed), the
highly ambitious - and highly controversial - Internet science
publishing initiative from the National Institutes of Health, is
the topic of the latest Cutting Edge debate on HMS Beagle, the
Spearheading the project is NIH director Harold Varmus, who
promotes PubMed Central as an electronic "public library" of the
entire life sciences/medical literature - this archive would be
freely available to anyone and everyone via the Net. Such a
plan has the potential to fundamentally change the way science
publishing - and perhaps even science itself - is done.
HMS Beagle presents extensive commentary and background on
E-BioMed, from Varmus himself and from other major figures in
science publishing, all of whom hold varying stakes in the
outcome of the project: Mary Waltham, US President of Nature;
Michelle Hogan, Executive Director of the American Association
of Immunologists; and Karen Hunter, Senior Vice President at
Elsevier Science Publishing (which owns HMS Beagle and its
parent site, BioMedNet). These four offered their views at a
June 1999 symposium hosted by the Washington DC Science Writers'
Association. Also heard from in the Beagle debate is Los Alamos
National Laboratory particle phyicist Paul Ginsparg, whose
pioneering work in online archiving inspired the NIH project.
Commercial science publisher Vitek Tracz provides further
commentary. The special issue also includes descriptions of
other new electronic archives of scientific material.
As Varmus describes it, the NIH repository would offer
"complete, seamless access to the entire literature." It would
also provide users with other major benefits including great
flexibility in sharing information, and the ability to evolve
with the literature. Some key elements of the original proposal
have been altered since the June symposium, and HMS Beagle
Editor-in-Chief Lois Wingerson provides the latest updates in
her synposis of the debate
The project name itself has evolved from "E-BioMed" to "PubMed
Central", as the site will be integrated with the existing
PubMed biomedical literature database.
Money, status, credibility, independence - these are just some
of the issues, each more charged than the next, that have sprung
up around this proposal. One hot spot appeared early on when
Varmus revealed that, in order to be as inclusive as possible,
the repository would post "minimally reviewed" research papers
(clearly labeled as such) that would not have been through the
rigorous peer-review normally associated with publication.
Strenuous objections followed regarding the credibility of such
material, notably from the European Molecular Biology
Organization (EMBO), a major collaborator in the venture. The
issue remains a heated topic.
Financial issues are, as ever, high on the list of concerns. By
offering free access to research papers, PubMed Central is a
potential threat to publishers' revenues. Particularly
vulnerable are professional societies, which depend heavily on
income from their publishing activities. At the same time, the
PubMed Central proposal would shift more of the costs of
archiving away from readers or institutions, and onto the
researchers themselves. Many wonder whether scientists will be
willing and able to bear such costs.
Myriad other questions arise: would an archive like PubMed
Central lead to over-involvement by the government in the
dissemination of scientific information? This could further
compromise the credibility of the site's content. Would such a
huge undertaking distract the NIH from its fundamental mission
of promoting and funding scientific research? And so on.
Both the potential benefits and dangers of this far-reaching
project are enormous, and feelings in all quarters run deep.
This is a debate that has only just begun.
About HMS Beagle
HMS Beagle is the award-winning online BioMedNet Magazine for
biological and medical researchers. It provides daily news
digests from major science publications, and bi-weekly original
content such as opinions, meetings coverage, debates, Website
and software reviews, fiction and much more - all on the life
sciences. Visit http://www.biomednet.com/hmsbeagle
For information on citing HMS Beagle, please visit:
BioMedNet is the Internet Community for Biological and Medical
Researchers, which currently has over 460,000 members
worldwide. BioMedNet provides the life science community with
access to an unparalleled range of information resources,
including: a full-text library; scientific databases including
Evaluated MEDLINE; HMS Beagle; an interactive Job Exchange;
BioMedLink, the 'Yahoo' for scientists; overnight conference
coverage and much more. Membership to BioMedNet is free.
For further information please contact:
Barbara Sullivan/Lois Wingerson
HMS Beagle, The BioMedNet Magazine
Press Officer, BioMedNet
Tel: +44 (0)171 323 5348
Visit http://www.biomednet.com/display/info/pr.html to see
archived BioMedNet press releases.
Humanist Discussion Group
Information at <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>