Recommendations of the Electronic Publishing in Science Conference

Dear colleagues,

As you may be aware ICSU through its Committee for the Dissemination of Scientific Information/ICSU Press held a second International Conference jointly with UNESCO on "Electronic Publishing in Science" early this year. This was almost exactly five years after the first highly successful Conference of this type had been held. Again it involved the broadest spectrum of experts representing the International Scientific Unions and Associations, Librarians and Information Scientists, Copyright Specialists, Publishers (both commercial and learned-society), Information Brokers. It also attempted to achieve wide international participation through the ICSU and UNESCO constituencies.

The dramatic impact of the new technologies on the distribution information is being particularly felt in science where many innovations such as the World Wide Web were initiated. The new developments provide enormous potential benefits for the scientific information chain and hence for the progress of science. But there are real difficulties in developing a new paradigm that meets the needs of science in an effective way. There have been major developments in electronic publishing since the last Conference and these continue. It was therefore appropriate to bring together those with experience and knowledge of the developing scene.

The lectures and discussion groups engendered a lively debate and enabled the Conference to make a number of important Recommendations on how the interests of the international community of scientists could best be served by electronic publishing. These Recommendations are attached in two different formats. They are aimed to varying degrees at all the stakeholders involved in the scientific information chain and in particular the Unions, Learned Society Publishers and individual Scientists who make up the ICSU Family. I am therefore writing in the hope that you will disseminate these conclusions to your constituents.

The full Proceedings of the Conference will be published shortly on the ICSU Press Web Site where most of the papers presented are already posted. ICSU Press, along with its associated partners, will also be initiating a programme of follow-up activities which will be publicised in due course.

The Conference was judged a great success by those who attended and we hope and believe that its influence will be broadly felt in the scientific community.

Yours sincerely
Roger Elliott
ICSU Press

Theoretical Physics Telephone : (+44) (0)1865 273996
University of Oxford Fax : (+44) (0)1865 273947
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Second ICSU-UNESCO International Conference

Electronic Publishing in Science
20 - 23 February 2001


The Second ICSU-UNESCO International Conference on Electronic Publishing in Science, convened at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris on 20-23 February 2001, determined a number of Recommendations aimed to varying degrees at all the stakeholders involved in the scientific information chain: governments, funding agencies, scientific organizations, publishers, librarians and individual scientists themselves. In particular, the sponsoring organizations, ICSU and UNESCO, were encouraged to carry forward a programme to follow-up many of the issues raised.

The Recommendations of the Conference are set out below, broadly grouped under a number of headings.


1. At this stage in the evolution of electronic publishing, serious experimentation is needed. Models should be developed that allow for the continued expansion and enhancement of scholarly communication. Governments and others involved must avoid setting unduly restrictive rules that make such experimentation more difficult.

2. The wide availability of electronic journals and ease of access for browsing and searching is essential.

3. Publishers and librarians should collaborate to use the new medium to obtain information that allows them to improve the management of scientific publications and facilities for scientific use.

4. ICSU and UNESCO should recognize the value of broad meetings of this type for enhancing the scientific information chain. In the light of rapid changes in technology, such meetings might take place at shorter intervals than the five years between the first and second Conferences.


1. The digital archiving of electronic publications is essential in order that unique results are not lost to posterity. A cross-disciplinary body should be created to propose guidelines that assure such archiving at an (inter)national level, including the possible involvement of trusted third parties.
Peer review
2. Peer review is essential to ensure the quality of scientific information. A standardized approach across all disciplines for peer review would be inappropriate. There should be further study of alternative approaches to peer review (including more open variants) in order to assess the impact of such processes and associated behaviour. The results of this experimentation should be widely communicated.
3. When preprint servers are used as part of the continuum of communication, an ongoing bibliographic record of the publication history must be maintained in association with the document. Authors should be educated in the importance of providing such information, but the responsibility for maintaining this record requires an organizational framework.
4. When citing preprints, authors should be encouraged to identify the version referred to. The bibliographic record (see recommendation 3 above) should provide a reference to any subsequent published version.
5. When technically feasible, publicly available and particularly peer-reviewed versions of articles should be authenticated to guarantee that they are the correct version.
Citation linking
6. Rights holders and publishers should facilitate linking for all references. It is desirable that systems for reference linking be bi-directional, interoperable, and open to all authors and publishers.
Ethical standards
7. Ethical considerations in publishing are of considerable importance. When the code of conduct of scientific and professional societies has been apparently violated, it is incumbent on the journal editor to follow up the case, and take appropriate action.


1. In order to maximize the dissemination of high-quality scientific information worldwide it is essential that a continually improving level of infrastructure (hardware, bandwidth, etc.) be in place.

2. Funding agencies should take some responsibility for funding the publication of the results of the research they have supported.

3. Experimentation to test transitional methods of funding the publication should be encouraged and the results of such experimentation widely communicated.

4. Differential pricing using the minimal marginal costs of the Web should be encouraged in relation to the ability to pay, while pricing and terms of use should be simplified as far as possible.

5. Scholarly information should be tax neutral with respect to the medium used, and there should be more consistency at an (inter)national level.


1. ICSU, UNESCO and all those concerned with the dissemination of scientific information should take action to facilitate information access to developing and transitional country scientists through improved infrastructure, including the rapid setting up of Internet facilities, connectivity and networking, where needed.

2. Equally, the skills of scientists, publishers and librarians in the publishing chain should be enhanced, in terms of writing, editing, publishing, disseminating and marketing and archiving.

3. National, regional and international co-operation and partnership should be fostered through the sharing of resources, knowledge and experience, and the creation of consortia and alliances, to achieve more affordable economic models.

4. An enabling policy environment should be encouraged at the national level, including dialogue with local communities, and participatory initiatives at regional and international levels should be promoted.

5. A global commitment to support and sustain these initiatives needs to be secured.


1. The principles of copyright, together with its traditional balances and exceptions, should be maintained in the electronic environment.

2. Science advances through access to, and the unfettered use of, factual information. Scientific, non-commercial use should not be constrained by legal restrictions on the use of data or information derived from databases.

3. For scientific databases there is often only a sole supplier, with the potential to block markets, or not serve them adequately. National and intergovernmental organizations should therefore promote a policy to assure the availability of database information at reasonable cost.

4. Additionally, if the rights holder cannot assure long-term archiving of the content of scientific databases, this policy should be extended in order that appropriate arrangements can be made for long-term preservation.

5. ICSU should establish a policy of prompt, full and open access to scientific data and information acquired within ICSU-sponsored programmes. Such a policy would be consistent with the ICSU principle of the universality of science and could parallel the existing ICSU statement on the Free Circulation of Scientists.

6. ICSU and UNESCO should endorse a policy of prompt, full and open availability of publicly funded data. Such a policy would enhance research effectiveness and output, as well as benefiting society as a whole through a better-informed public and economic growth.


Within their particular domains, all stakeholders in the scientific information chain, including ICSU, UNESCO, IFLA, learned societies, and individual groups of scientists, should assume greater responsibility for designing ways to help readers distinguish credible from questionable scientific information on the World Wide Web.

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