A move is afoot to force commercial publishers of scientific publications to open up their archives to the public domain. PDM editor Neil McNaughton compares the online availability of material from upstream societies like AAPG, SPE and SEG. He concludes that putting archive material into the public domain would conform better to their statutes than their current commercial behavior.

A thump in our letterbox this morning heralded the arrival of yet another learned journal. As an editor I try and make a point of at least skimming through these weighty tomes before they get chucked into the recycling bin. In my youth I used to keep them, but when I had accumulated some twenty years of Geophysics, Geophysical Prospecting and the attendant publications, the wife said ‘it’s either them or me.’ I chucked the journals.

A better way?

Part of the chucking rationale was a sentiment that with the advent of electronic publication, there would be a better way to publish, store and retrieve such information. Let me elaborate. This morning’s thumping arrival was the AAPG Bulletin for March 2001. Opening it up I see an article on basin evolution in western Newfoundland. Having no pressing need to learn about the province’s geology, nor about the Neogene of the Apennines, nor of any other of the undoubtedly interesting (for some) articles, the illustrious journal is now on its way back to the paper mill.

Just in case

What we have here is an example of ‘just in case’ information management. The AAPG is providing all this material on the assumption that some of it may be of interest. To translate this data delivery into the much more useful ‘just in time’ paradigm, you either need a library (the traditional way) or some electronic means of delivery and storage.


But the impact of online delivery is more profound than just storage and could enhance the whole publication process. Submission and review for example, think of all those mathematical papers in Geophysics. Is every equation checked? Are the checkers qualified? I assume so, but to make sure, societies could broadcast the arrival of a new paper - perhaps even publish a draft - and ask for volunteer reviewers. The whole review process would be more open, and best of all, quicker! The Newfoundland paper was originally submitted to the AAPG in January 1999 - over two years before publication! Other merits of online publication? An audit trail of the review process, searchable text, hot-linked references. But best of all, the online paradigm brings us ‘just in time access.’ When I need to know about western Newfoundland, I will be directed to the appropriate paper by the search engine.

On Line Bulletin

Actually though, the AAPG is in the forefront of electronic delivery of such material. As of 2001, you can ask for the Bulletin to be accessible online instead of receiving it in the post. This is progress if you like, but there is a catch. You can access the current year of the journal on-line, but if you want access to the whole archive you have to pay for a license. Now I personally do not mind paying a bit extra for a single user license for the online edition, but the extra payment has a pernicious effect on what is actually a stated objective of the AAPG and all the other societies - that is, education.

Jo Public

If you have to pay to view the back issues, the societal websites will never be accessible by Jo Public. They will never get indexed by the search engines. So that someone living in Saint Johns, who may have a legitimate personal interest in the Newfoundland article, will likely never ever know that it has been written.

Goose Tickle

Those serendipitous full text searches will never reveal that Newfoundland boasts a westward thrusting Goose Tickle detachment (I kid you not!). All this, I’m afraid, is because our beloved societies, despite their not for profit status, in reality tend to excessive retentiveness when it comes to making public the material which contributing members have seen fit to supply freely. They are not alone in this unfriendly practice.

Public Library of Science

A debate rages in the field of scientific publishing between authors of scientific papers and commercial publishers. The Public Library of Science is a movement that advocates not for profit publishing of scientific papers into the public domain.

Los Alamos

The movement originated in the physics community at Los Alamos, which has maintained a public domain archive for a decade or so. The impact on commercial publishers like Nature and Science is interesting. The argument from the scientific community is that taxpayers usually pay for the research, and this should therefore be put in the public domain. The commercial publishers retort that they need the sales to fund the paper editions of the journals.


A likely compromise is in the offing. Nature and Science will probably retain copyright for a fixed term - six months or a year. But all older material will likely be in the public domain. Which is interesting for us because all material over one year old from Petroleum Data Manager is freely available from the www.oilit.com website. In fact I find it puzzling that we, as a ‘proud to be commercial’ organization, have nearly one thousand articles in the public domain, but the ‘not for profit’ .orgs offer the public diddly-squat!

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