'Just as the tools used by scientific
research are changing, so too are the tools of scientific communication,'
claims the very powerful Elsevier publishing house on its Internet
site. The site offers an impressive number of on-line publications,
research tools per discipline, access to the full text of works
(paysite), and a 'contents alert' service allowing those who register
to receive the tables of contents of the journals of their choice
by e-mail. Since 1995, a newsletter – designed principally
for librarians and other book professionals – also provides
the latest news on Elsevier publications and other events.
This is far from an isolated example. The Internet
is also opening up many doors for Dunod of France, a 'knowledge'
specialist for the past 200 years and now part of the Vivendi group,
and likewise for Springer in Germany, founded in Berlin in 1842
(now 86.5% owned by Bertelsmann), which publishes 2 600 titles a
year and has a stock of about 19 000 books, 60% of them in English.
For traditional scientific publishers, new publishing houses, universities
and research centres alike, there is nothing 'virtual' about the
Internet. It is a vital new media in which they must invest.
In the world of magazine publishing, the cost of paper is rising,
the number of subscribers falling and the only way to maintain circulation
is by concentrating on virtual access. This has not, however, prevented
an almost unbridled increase in the number of print magazine titles,
with a 207% increase between 1986 and 1999. In March 2000, there
were approximately 3 000 on-line magazines produced on the basis
of paper versions (including 689 on medicine and 165 on physics)
out of a total of 8 511 virtual magazines. One no longer speaks
of subscriptions but of various kinds of 'site licences' –
for institutions or groups of institutions, or for individuals.
Electronic publishing not only makes it possible
to consult the articles, whether free of charge of otherwise, but
also to track down other sources of knowledge through a document
search, links, interactive services, electronic commerce, etc. The
websites, in fact, operate as a marketing service for mass circulation
scientific journals – such as New Scientist, La Recherche,
Scientific American – attracting potential readers to
the printed versions.
However, this wealth of information of every possible
kind also raises a number of questions, especially ethical ones.
There has been a lot of talk about access to information and free
information (see… page …), but there are other issues
too. Richard Smith, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal,
wonders, for example, about the changes the virtual dimension is
bringing to medical information. He set out his ideas at the second
International Conference on Electronic Publishing in Science organised
by the International Science Council and Unesco in February 2001
.org/science/). He believes the fact that 'doctors and their
patients can have immediate access to the same information' can
change their relationship which becomes more egalitarian and is
no longer of the 'master-pupil' variety (although a distinction
between information and a command of information remains necessary).
Moreover, the circulation of details of treated cases, in which
a patient can recognise himself and be recognised by others, is
a very different matter when these details are 'read' by 500 people
or made available on an Internet site where they can be consulted
Other kinds of publisher,
such as Odile Jacob (http://www.odilejacob.fr/)in
France, use the Internet to participate in educational
programmes. Its multimedia department has teamed up
with Jeulin, a specialist in teaching aids, and the
école des Mines to launch tools designed for
primary school classes as part of a national operation
entitled 'La main dans la pâte'. One example is
'L'eau dans le quotidien' (Water in daily life), a CD-Rom
with a teaching kit, designed for teachers. In addition
to the 'practical' questions of science, the videos
teach children to read, think and discuss. This valuable
tool was developed in co-operation with Nobel prizewinner