Speaker: Eberhard Hilf (Carl von Ossietzky Universitaet)

Talk on Eprint Archive

(Bob Kelly Introduces Eberhard Hilf)

Last night, I mentioned to a colleague of mine from the German Physics Society that he had gotten prolific with saying that physicists didn't need publishers and I had promised him in my note from the University of Oldenburg that I was giving him the opportunity to talk for a few minutes and before we close here tonight I want to live up to that promise. I want to give Eberhard a few moments to share with us some of his ideas. So join me in welcoming a prominent member of the German physics community, Eberhard Hilf.

Eberhard R. Hilf, Dept. of Physics, Univ. Oldenburg, Germany and for the German Physical Society DPG

Eberhard Hilf

Thank you very much for the invitation. I understand your message, but in fact, I will not resort to my computer for my one hour talk. You may read the full document, however, on our local document server, and I think, at the moment, a brief glimpse presented orally will with an enlighted face makes more sense. So thank you very much for bringing us here, Burkhard Fricke, the representative of the German Physical Society DPG, and me. We just wanted to say that we think along similar lines, but we take a pretty different standpoint.

One is that we have to proceed truely interdisciplinary. To assure this, the German Physical Society has put up a committee ELFIKOM in charge to decide on advice, recommendations for all matters in electronic information, communication and publishing. Members are Physics departments, representatives from the Industry, State libraries, University Libraries, Computer centers, the DFN (Deutsches Forschungs-Netz, a data highway provider for research institutions), and commercial data base hosts (FIZ Karlsruhe of STN) and Publishers. With regard to the learned Societies in close by fields, the approach in Germany is, that the four societies DPG (Physics), DMV (Mathematics), GI (Computer Science) and GDCh (Chemistry) have decided to join their efforts. They are finishing a joint Treaty which details their joint actions such as having a joint ELFIKOM committee, a series of joint Workshops, the first one to be in Berlin in March 1995, and they will make shure that their actions such as standardizing and linking together the departmental servers, the strategy towards electronic publishing and services, etc., will be approached coherently and cooperatively. The interdisciplinarity coherence of learned publishing was one of the important good properties of the past system, which enabled scientists to move to new fields, to cooperate with colleagues in other fields, without having to move to totally different ways of flow of information in the publishing.

The second point is to keep all actions strictly embedded in the international context, which was the other good property of the past system. We had international journals and we want to keep the new emerging system to be internationally accepted and worldwide implemented and used. Thus it makes no sense for us to wait for national strategies and then try to bend the different lines together. Instead we invited the other national societies to join the ELFIKOM, APS is a member of this committee, and R. A. Kelly gave us a stimulating report on your ideas. Thus we propose to do experiments to find the optimal system of electronic publishing together, that means electing some departments in your country and in some others and binding their servers together, to name just one experiment (actually this is a link to the future).

We invite you to share all of our ideas and approaches and hope for a really interactive approach.

Thank you very much.

E.R. Hilf

Since our home University is hooked to the Internet only by a 64 KB line, for your convenience I add here the document of Oct. 1994 I sent to the APS for this talk.

Eberhard R.Hilf, University of Oldenburg-Germany, hilf@merlin.physik.uni-oldenburg.de



A report of activities in Germany is given and some arguments how the future development could be. In Germany the Physics, Information Science and Mathematics Societies are picking the thread jointly and hopefully in close collaboration with their international partners. It is argued, that since we do not know where the future will go, intensive discussions and innovative experiments of trying different ways have to be done. The past system has had some advantages: truely international, interdisciplinarystandards for publication and refereeing. This should not get lost, thus the experiments we propose should be the same way: international and with different fields.


The industrial revolution from Printed Matters to the World Wide Web of electronic hypertexts is a phase transition to a new-age-of-information, remolding almost all aspects of life.

We here dwell mainly on the impact on the Physics Community. Many aspects, however, are not specific to Physics but apply basically to many other fields of human activities especially in science of course.

Physics means searching for the laws of Nature by experiments and by developing theoretical models casted in mathematical structures to predict the experimental results. The question here is, what can information technology help and how will this process be affected by the new age of information.

In the first part, I give scenarios of some aspects of physicists work. We then will present the action that the German Physical Society DPG is planning in close cooperation with the APS, The American Physical Society.

Only specific action, world-wide coordinated and interlinked with other fields activities will be able to actively participate in the casting the future.

Organizing the E-print Archiving

Adjust the Present Organization or Turn to a New One?

Should the present professional organizations take care of the new tasks or should there be new organizational strucuters? In history the introduction of railways has led to the new organizational structures of the present railway companies and railway government structures, which once established have done their task in a sophisticated, professional and dedicated way. Thus even if nowadays one wouldcomeup with the opinion, that another way of organization might be better, due to the huge inertia of the present large system, the high dependance of the public on the continuous availability and the enormous political and economical power, - the barrier for a transition is unsurmountable high and can not be overcome. The habits of travelling have adjusted over time, often unrealized.

Similarly for another industrial transition: the letter printing. Over the time a highly sophisticated intricate, professional system of libraries, distributors, book-shops, publishers, referees, has developed which serves the public. The reader's habits have adjusted accordingly, and so have the authors. Scientists think in terms of papers to be published as part of their career and scientific progress.

The organizational structures have grown from small individual enterprises, having had the right ideas andmeans at the right time, such as Mr. Elsevier for the international scientific journal.

The organizational structures from the times before the transition, -cloisters with monks copying by hand, horse-riding messengers, although they still exist, do not play an important role.

Should there be Lobbying or Public Advertizing?

History tells that lobbying to get the money is certainly important. But in contrast to the task of introducing a similar product into an existing market, acting in the time of an industrial phase transition has advantages: The earlier an initiative the less competition. Although the public, thinking in the traditional way has often infinitively high objections against a change to the unknown for a solution to their known needs, their are two options: trying in vain to convince the future customer or just proceed with the experience that those who use the new tools see immediately the superiority and prospectives. Thus I propose to proceed.


The following ideas are for discussion, not meant as an imperative.

The Ginsparg-initiative has given a fruitful answer to the preprint service and its archiving. It is at present run at a National Research Center.

The Physics Societies should take means to guarantee that this service is available on a long term basis, -even if the LANL were closed,- and extend it to other fields of physics. Thus the physicists worldwide should be urged to join using the server. The Physics Societies should either take over the service, or mirror it, or delegate it to companies with the respective boundary conditions.

However we do have to analyze why the server is not accepted and used in specific fields of physics yet.

It should be accompanied by setting up servers at all physics laboratories and give access to all physicists to the web. This is more an educational task.

In addition, the Physics Societies should set up dedicated electronic services in specific fields, including the exchange of data, the coupling of computers and programmes. In some fields where in the past huge data bases (chemical physics, material science) have been set up and are widely used, it may have to be reexamined, which part could be replaced and what could be added by using distributed data bases , via world wide web called programs, or even distribute programs. The reason is, that in the past, for industrial data bases, when experimental numbers where missing yet, this has to be filled by numerical data, produced by numerical programs or simulations. With the new age of distributed powerful computer power and storage this has to be revisited.

Furthermore a huge task is the set-up and offering of information providers, filters, dedicated work-surfaces, retrieval assistance, etc. This is a whole new market and needs all kinds of professions, software writing, distributors, librarians, editors, etc.
The properties of such services being developed by the prospective users, the service and installation is best in the hands of the Societies or their cooperating industrial partners.

Whether some of the present industrial bodies such as publishers, libraries, distributors, are taking the pole or whether new structures will form, should peacefully be left to the indsutrial competition. The present large international publishers and the University Libraries do have the advantage of a large staff of professionals and an established set of referees. So, if they enter they will be transformed but survive. But probably other, even new companies with less inertia, may have a perfect chance. Since one cannot forsee the future development, and has no means to steer it , we here should not point a direction but offer to all willing to participate our collaboration.

Personally I think, we all should try hard to cooperate with all parties, Physics societies, publishers, librarians, willing to search for the best way to cast the future, to have enough expertise, strength and audacity on board.

Forming task forces addressing specific topics small enough to be flexible and fast enough, but containing enough breadth could be best: joint work-groups of the APS, EPS or some of their societies, a publisher, a software house, and a few University departments, groups or libraries.

The results of these experiments should be presented and discussed internationally. Setting and organizing the scene for a full fledged sensibilization and discussion of the world-wide physics community is at present the main task of the Physics societies instead of fixing new standards too early.

Specific Experiments to be Addressed

Refereeing and Peer System

In the past the refereeing had two aims:

The reader of a scientific published article wanted a guarantee, that the article has been screened by some referees. By picking the journal and knowing its past reputation, he had a feeling by his or other's experience what level of srcutiny to expect from the Publisher.

The author wanted to reach out to his readers and by getting his article into the suitable journal got this label, his aimed at readers use as a filter.

In addition the author needs the thus gained reputation for his applications for positions, etc. The hiring committees as well used the reputation of puthor's picked journals to help judging.

Thus the peer refereeing system was basically attached to the long standing and developed history and reputation of the scientific international journals. Without having a better and worldwide established system to cope with these job-related tasks as well, one has here to keep in parallel to new expermental ways the traditional way, added by a smooth extension of the journals being offered in parallel electronically and archived that way.

However, experimentally, and in parallel, the Physics Societies could think of setting up a Peer system by themselves, as APS has anyway due to its journals, which could be quite differently organized:

Hiring commitees of a department, say, could ask the Society for a scientific referee report for the applicants. It would delegate this to its respective division (at present for APS its PR, PRL journal refereeing division), picking the actual referees by the well established patterns, who would then greatly ease their work by having full access to the work of the candidate by the internet accessed archive.

The innovative part is more subtle: authors could decide to live with their papers as ep-preprints, with no delay in distribution by refereeing.

But they could ask the referee system for screening specific articles, in order to eventually address a reader having turned on his filters to get only refereed articles. The screening and the distribution of science would thus be decoupled, and not more refereeing been done as necessary.

Distribution of Journals at Universities

For a smooth transition to a future with a yet unknown system of ep-archive it is absolutely necessary to keep the present system of journals running as is, but transferring it to use the electronic advantages.

The tasks here are:

Apparently, a task force of a publisher with some departments of Physics in different countries as embedded in the discussion boosted by the Societies, and in conjunction with a software house or group could do a very valuable experiment. For interested parties the author would like to act catalytically.

Reader's Wishes

The physicsist's dream as a daily user and producer of information can now with the new electronic possibilities be addressed:

Information to be accessed and distributed

Especially the primary aim that the future system of ep-archiving has to be stable, worldwide, interdisciplinary sets a high level to the responsibility of organizing the experiments.

Fields Adjacent to Ep-archiving

The phase transition from printed matter to electronic typing, storing, transmitting of text and the information network will equally revolutionize all fields of life, including not only the commerce but also the way, administrations internally operate. We have proposed to the German Science Ministery, by means of a study in July 1994, how to approach this.

Actions of the German Physical Society DPG

The German Physical Society has set up a committee for Electronische Fachinformation und Kommunikation ELFIKOM to advice the DPG in these matters.

ELFIKOM It had had its first meeting in July. Members are delegates from Physics Departments, of Industry, of the commercial server FIZ Karlsruhe, the TIB Hannover (a large state Library), of publishers (Elsevier, Springer, CH), of computer centres. Permanent guests are the Societies of Chemistry, Information Science, Mathematics. For the APS, R. A. Kelly was invited presenting the lines of the APS. It was decided that the tasks should be worked out and persued in close cooperation with the APS and hopefully in the future other national Societies.

In the past, the German Science Ministery had had a national programme with about 45 Physics departments to implant and distribute the use of using commercial data servers such as STN and the FIZ-Karlsruhe.

Since then, each of the departments has a highly educated expert and a local system of education and training.

On the 27th of September 1994 the Societies of Physics (DPG), of Information Science (GI-Informatik) and of Mathematics (DMV) in Germany have merged their efforts in striving for the future of information and communication electronically.

First actions are a joint e-mail server, a icooperative applying to the German Science Ministery for funding, a joint international workshop in spring 95, and a lot of future activities, such as harmonizing the University servers, a mutual representation in international bodies and conferences, a sharing of the professionalities,..

We are aware, that although doing experiments in all directions, these have to be done with the international partners their interdisciplinary counterparts in neighbouring fields.

Arthur Smith to the Ep-archive 1994

Another interesting idea on the Web, spelled out a little differently from what we seem to have been thinking, is available at The Living Textbook, D. Ebner . - this describes a proposal for the future of scientific publishing that eliminates the "journal" paradigm in favor of a network-based "textbook" constantly updated, with every new section specifically explaining what other sections it is dependent on, so that a reader may know immediately what background material is required, and be able to obtain it as well. I'd be interested to hear opinions on the practicality of this idea...

What of the idea of "dissolving" the concept of a paper? Papers seem to have been decreasing in length generally in recent years (at least there is a perception of trends towards the "least publishable unit") and paper-counting is a very arbitrary mode of giving credit that it would be nice to supersede with something better. But I think figuring out what that "something better" is requires stepping back and analyzing more carefully exactly what it is we scientists are up to. Some recent advances in the philosophy of science may give us some direction here... (The rest of the note you find in label dated: Thu, 6 Oct 94 16:17:12 -0700, to: eptalk@aps.org, subject: The Living Textbook, etc.)

Mark E. Williams raised the question of security, which nobody seems to have responded to. He asked:

As far as I know, the only way to try to be open to physicists and not to others is "security through obscurity", which has been proven not to be very effective against hackers in general. Basically, as soon as you're on the network you are vulnerable. But there are relatively simple steps you can take to minimize that vulnerability. There are firewall programs, which themselves no doubt have holes in them but which will at least keep the idle curious away. Back up your data - the more critical it is, the more frequently you should do it. If you have a back-up of the original data you can always recover from erasure or corruption. Then you just need to know whether such corruption has happened, and there are relatively simple checksum techniques, or you can hook up WORM media (write once, read many - like CD-ROMs) and check the integrity of critical files periodically.

If you're worried about the e-print archives themselves getting corrupted (and we should be - so far 1. the data hasn't been important enough (?) and 2. we've been lucky?) - the same measures (back up, write-once devices) can and should be used.

But there are other problems - suppose somebody without proper authorization tries to replace something in the e-print archive by pretending (through e-mail forgery or password snatching) they are the original author? How do you, generally, identify a given person as the physicist they claim to be rather than some imposter? Methods (such as public key/private key encryption systems) are available to reduce the possibilities for this, and we should investigate them and promote their use by scientists.

In summary, security methods are available, but they aren't necessarily trivial to implement.

Arthur Smith

Reply to A. Smith

reply to ep-archive E. R. Hilf on 7. 10.94

In reply to Arthur Smith's note on the subject of 'Living manuscripts and Text books etc:

For me also in the past ages authors have exploited all possible ways to express their thougths: for different subjects and different authors thu s different ways of putting it down and distributing have been used (books, articles, Leporello, journals, posters, ..). Thus with the world wide web's communication possibilities all ways technically to think of will be exploited by someone once discovered. Only after it has been tried can we esteem the value for scientific information and communication. I think we have not to wait for philosophy colleagues but to try ourselves for material of our own science, keeping in mind that it will be suitable for some material and authors but not for all, and thus will be an addition.

Technically this means: each of us who talks about, should pick a topic and write a 'living manuscript' himself to gain his own experience and then let us share the experience. Ours is somewhat the collection of talks. Basically 'living manuscript' means to update chapters, keep the history, install slowly a hierarchy of levels of sophistication, add links and hyper-links as they become known, The advantages are that one can offer different readers a different path through the relevant to him parts of the text, and to separate totally the refereeing process.

The refereeing would come about on demand of the author, or a ('hiring') committee, or the reader, whoever has this demand and ability to get it refereed. In this case: the manuscript has been apparently screened by the ep-archive in September 1994 and accepted for posting on the server, but later versions migth be better from the author's side, but the referee status is non-permanent and expires, thus would have been renewed on demand.

Clearly, we all can easily think of scientific results not suited for this medium, such as results with a recognized priority, and an accepted refereeing processm not to be changed (integrity of the result) by anyone, but others could fit well, such as reports on the status of the construction of an experimental setup, the present status of simulation programmes, etc.

Yours, Ebs Hilf

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