Publication of results is a key activity in scientific research. The publication record of a scientist or institution is frequently used to evaluate their contributions to their field both by other scientists and, more importantly, by the governmental and private institutions, which fund their research.

Many aspects of the publication of research papers have been greatly improved by the easier access to fast internet connections and the adoption of widespread standards for electronic documents. However, other aspects of this activity seem to be suffering from these changes. Scientific journals are under pressure to publish quickly, to bring the newest results to the attention of the widest research audience and that can easily lead to a deterioration of standards in the refereeing process. So nowadays, reputable journals often accept relatively mediocre or incorrect articles, which would not have survived the refereeing process just a decade ago.

Due to the link between number of published papers and research funding or career development, the results of a research project are frequently divided and published in subsequent separate papers. This over-abundance of reporting very similar results should be, of course, controlled by the peer-review system. Pressure from the editors, in order to maintain a reasonable turn-around time in the refereeing process, and the increasing numbers of references to be checked by the referees, whose work is not publicly acknowledged due to the obvious anonymity requirements, makes this a very difficult task.

Scientific publishing seems to be at a stage now where changes should be considered to take advantage of the possibilities offered by the internet. At the same time, the high levels of scientific standards which have been (and usually still are) the norm in the scientific publications on fusion research need to be preserved. The way forward could well be a similar scheme to that followed by other groups of scientists who are involved in activities with worldwide collaborations, such as high-energy physics. The path followed by them has been the use of a publicly accessible database of electronic pre-prints (e.g., maintained by the Los Álamos National Laboratory in the USA) which serves as a central archive of all research publications in their field. This archive has several sub-sections, with one already on plasma physics (dominated by non-fusion orientated plasma physics). An improved system along those lines could be set up (it is already partially set-up with the JET pin-board web-page system) for worldwide fusion research activities or, at least, for the European ones. The basic system would be a web-page where papers can be submitted (after clearance by the fusion research institutes) in a standard format (pdf) to various subsections of the fusion research pre-print archive. A discussion board could be allocated to every submitted pre-print so that other researchers can express their opinion/questions about the results contained in the paper. Obviously, such a discussion board system can easily be subject to abuse and it may be necessary to control it, if too many users do not behave in a civilized manner. If copyright with particular journals becomes an issue once the paper is published, the link in the archive to the pre-print and the pre-print discussion board would be replaced by the link to the corresponding journal article. This would only be accessible to the institutions, which subscribe to the journal in question.

There are easy ways to publicly acknowledge the work of the referees, which can be implemented readily by the journals, and imply no risk to the anonymity of the refereeing process. A very simple option is to publish in the journal, at the end of every year, a list of all the referees that have provided advice to the journal and the number of papers that they have evaluated in the course of the year. This public recognition of the refereeing work is long overdue and, if implemented, could also form part of the researcher’s record of scientific activities.

Advantages of an internet pre-print archive in conjunction with the traditional publication in scientific journals:

. standard pre-print number and submission date are available to authors, which serves as record of their contribution

.authors can obtain a pre-submission peerreview of their work if they wish

.scientists are provided with an up to date and centralized database of research advances in their field

.information (criticisms and answers) in the discussion board would be available to all the fusion researchers and also to the referees

.even if a paper is not finally published, its contents will be available to other fusion researchers, which can acknowledge the contributions of such a preprint in their publications.

You would like to get more information on scientific publishing in the Internet? Please find interesting links to several scientific publishers on:

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