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RE: journals and paleontologists

I'd like to take a moment here to second most of what Tom has said, and add a few points to his response...

 ekaterina amalitzkaya wrote:
> It looks as many people have the common problem of obtaining that Gaia
> volume with papers including those of some generally patient and helpful
> list members. I wonder if this strikes only me or others too that
> there is a
> major problem with paleontologists and and the journals they
> publish in- the
> latter are simply inaccessible.

Please don't mistake my inquiry about the journal as any sort of accusation -- I was simply curious as to whether my apparent inability to contact them was something indigenous to my end of things or if it was more widespread. I'm certianly not accusing the _Gaia_ people of anything, least of all professional indiscretions (!); I was just curious if further publishing problems had arisen that had postponed the release of the issue, or if instead my e-mails to them had been lost in cyberspace.

Some respectable paleontologists
> like Paul
> Sereno and his team set up excellent website to inform the public about
> their discoveries even before they are published.

Two things on this: (1) few, if any, other paleontologists have the funding to hire people to make these web sites, and even fewer paleontologists (methinks) have the time to make them themselves! I hope no one on the list is under the impression that paleontologists are living high on the hog ('cuz if the rest of them are, I need to know how to get in the loop!!!), and (2) not all paleontologists desire press coverage -- I for one certainly don't. It's not that I have anything to hide, or wish to prevent other paleontologists (or the public) from knowing about what I'm working on, but that I do my best research when I'm not being distracted by frivolous external factors, and I'm _more_ interested in doing good science and furthering the overall body of paleontological knowledge. When the work is complete, I'll release it and all the juicy details to everyone simultaneously. This is how most other sciences work as well; paleontology isn't an exception. As far as I can tell, only astronomy/cosmology is comparable to paleontology in terms of the thirst amongst the public and amateur communities for "preview" knowledge of new discoveries.

Certain other decent
> paleontologists on this list have a general tendency to answer most
> questions of the public.

Yes, and lauded they should be!

But why is it that they have never
> thought of being
> more organized and making their (published) material  easily
> accessible to
> all interested without mafia formation.

I must second Tom's objections to this accusation. There is hardly any "mafia" of paleontologists. Information takes time and effort to accurately organize, review, and disperse, hence the frequent long periods of time between initial discoveries and publication in journals. Once in the journals, however, copyrights belong to the journals, not to the authors of the papers. The authors have no capacity or legal right to distribute an infinite number of reprints freely; for the paper copies, beyond a small number of free reprints most journals provide, the authors must pay for each reprint. I've never been on the inside of a journal, so I can't speak from any sort of authority, but I would presume that this money, as well as page charges, subscription charges, etc. go back towards the publication of future articles -- in other words, the journals are more or less self-sufficient. If they never charged anyone for anything, and had no income, but had to pay to produce the journal, the journal wouldn't be around for very long before all the money was exhausted. It's got to come from somewhere, and that "somewhere" is the market for new articles. That's capitalism. Until this changes (or until lots of people endow vast quantities of money to the publishers), there will always be a dearth of "free" journal articles.

Why not set up an archive like
> physicists
> where electronic *reprints* can be accessed.

I am not aware of this archive. Where is it? I'd like to see how it is structured and funded, and how it gets around the copyright laws. Are the reprints recent, or is there a significant delay between when the articles are initially released and when they are made "free" in the archive? ...but besides all that, we must keep in mind that there are several magnitudes more physicists out there, doing far more research, than there are paleontologists doing paleontological research, and likewise far more subscribers (= larger demand) for physics articles. Physics journals may well be more able to provide "free" material and retain self-sufficiency than any paleontological journal ever could.

For example
> that paper on
> Achillobater was so inacessible while being so critical. I wonder as a
> commnunity why paleontologists did not try making it more easy to
> obtain for
> lesser mortals.

Again, accusations aren't necessary here (nor appreciated). As TOm noted, the _Achillobator_ paper must _not_ be viewed as a typical instance of paleontological publishing. This particular case has extenuating circumstances (of which I am only dimly aware, but which don't need to be gone into here, anyway). Far and away the majority of paleontology papers aren't similar to this, and it's unfair to make the statistical outliers examples of the "norm." But I believe your point is more that yes, some important articles do get published in journals that are difficult to get in the U.S. or Europe; this has happened recently in many Russian and Chinese journals. I don't for a moment believe that there are Russian or Chinese paleontological "mafias" preventing this information from getting to us? Hardly -- the Russian and Chinese authors submit to those journals because it is easier and far less expensive for them to stay "in house," as it were, than to get to the perhaps larger and more widely distributed western journals. However, that same barrier probably also prevents them from getting easy access to information available in western journals -- again, is there a "mafia" of western paleontologists witholding information from them? Not at all. The distribution channels are widening -- certainly they are far wider now than they were even just a decade ago -- but these things take a lot of time! It's not fair to expect that these avenues open instantaneously. Political difficulties aside, it's not financially feasible at present -- where would the money come from to make these things widely available?

Some say there is no money but this makes no
> sense. If there
> is no money there is all the more reason to be more open as all
> are paupers.

I'm not quite following you here -- while it's nicely idealistic, in that Star-Trek-futuristic kind of way, that everyone works for free just to further scientific knowledge and better ourselves (meaning humanity as a whole), it just ain't gonna happen right now. People expect recompensation for doing work like producing a journal or creating and maintaining a web site.

Tom Holtz wrote:

know that this might come as a shock to the folks on the list, but the
majority of you are using greater computer power reading this list then is
available at a lot of museums in developing countries!

This point cannot be underemphasized. We in the western world must remain aware that we have it a lot better off, in terms of what we can accomplish as a result of our economic fortune, than the majority of the world. Computers like ours, for producing papers, let alone web sites, simply aren't nearly as available in, for example, China, or Mongolia.

In the case of
_Gaia_, the jounral is going through editorial/management changes which are
way outside the control of contributing writers and guest scientific
editors.  They had just begun to get an online presence before losing the
most computer-savvy of all their staff.

An unfortunate coincedence of events, clearly. Patience, as always, is the key!

So you can't
get easy access to an article of limited distribution in an obscure
Mongolian journal...  Well, it isn't easy for us, either.

Seconded! People'd be surprised the lengths I've had to go to to get a hold of certain publications!

Jerry D. Harris
Dept of Earth & Environmental Science
University of Pennsylvania
240 S 33rd St
Philadelphia PA  19104-6316
Phone: (215) 573-8373
Fax: (215) 898-0964
E-mail: jdharris@sas.upenn.edu
and     dinogami@hotmail.com

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