AIP | Matters
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Fred Dylla Director's Matters

By H. Frederick Dylla, Executive Director & CEO

Science must navigate the gale of creative destruction

The economic headlines continue to dominate our national and international news: the painfully slow recovery from the 2008 recession in most parts of the world; the possibility of a "double dip" if the European Union can't deal with its sovereign debt crisis; and the unexpected slowdown in China's growth. However, the increasing linkage between all of the world's developed economies and the strong dependence on technology for growth areas present both opportunities and threats for the business of science.

Economist Joseph Schumpeter was the first to observe that disruptive but necessary turbulence often drives economic growth. But thanks to the Internet, something like Schumpeter's "perennial gale of creative destruction" is also churning how we process and communicate the results of science.
 

Economist Joseph Schumpeter. Copyright free use by Volkswirtschaftliches Institut, Germany Long before capitalism fully evolved, science established itself as a collaborative knowledge-generation enterprise that relied, among other practices, on peer-reviewed publications as the primary form of communication. What researchers reported in scientific papers and books could be tested, criticized, and refined. Once established, new knowledge was used for developing even newer knowledge.

Sometimes—as with Roentgen and x-rays, or Fleming and penicillin—the new knowledge could be applied in practical ways. In the 20th century, with overlaps growing between pure and applied research and between research and engineering, science came to drive the advance of technology.

Obviously that meant science also came to contribute mightily to Schumpeter's gale, and thereby to prosperity and human well-being. Creative destruction occurred when electricity put people out of work in the candle and oil-lamp industries, when jet airliners ended transoceanic ship travel, and when computers killed typewriters.

Science still advances through communication and collaboration, of course, but now the Internet offers new ways for it to do so. And science needs not just to accept but actively to guide the inevitable changes. That's why it's important to declare that trying to shelter the scientific publishing industry from the Internet's relentless opportunities is counterproductive resistance to Schumpeter's gale.

Worldwide over many decades, scientific publishing has grown to multibillion-dollar scale. It includes nonprofits like the American Institute of Physics. At AIP, we serve science in part by publishing over 15,000 articles annually. Our online accessibility began early in the Internet era; we first placed one of our journals online in 1994.

Under copyright protection, scholarly publishers each year transform more than a million scientists' manuscripts into peer-reviewed articles, professionally edited, produced and archived. Publishers make these articles available mostly via online journal subscriptions to libraries, and usually with an interpretation of "fair use," allowing authors to post articles on their websites and distribute copies for noncommercial uses.

Working with librarians and research agencies and others, publishers are creating an increasingly sophisticated archiving system. We're developing better "discoverability," as we call it, to sharpen searches. We're finding universally usable ways to preserve the data underlying the articles.

But worldwide in recent years, people in and out of science have been asking why scientific papers must be sequestered behind journals' subscription paywalls. Why not just have scientists post their manuscripts online, publicize the links, let web search engines handle information retrieval, and be done with it?

It's a great question. It reflects science's natural, and crucial, spirit of openness. Consider why scientists at Geneva's CERN physics laboratory devised the World Wide Web in the first place. They wanted better, simpler ways to use the Internet for collaborating in the advance of particle physics.

The question carries special urgency among nonscientists who hope, sometimes desperately, to search medical knowledge for ways of combating loved ones' illnesses. It also animates researchers who are impatient to see their own and others' papers made quickly and easily available online, for free.

After all, the most vocal proponents assert, taxpayers foot the bill for much of what scientists do, don't they? So why should taxpayers pay again to see research results?

This issue has a name: open access. Ironically, scientists themselves treasure the principle of free-flowing information. We can't have science without it. I see this outlook in every scientist I know in scholarly publishing. We want to see the scientific literature opened up online for access beyond what's available to users of university and laboratory libraries.

But we also want to see science continue evolving sensibly and effectively as a knowledge-generation enterprise. After all, free access can't be costless. To achieve high quality requires, for example, paying more than 140 PhD physicists who serve on AIP editorial staffs, managing the peer review process involving tens of thousands of reviewers, and vetting similar numbers of manuscripts.

Including other costs, it takes a few thousand dollars apiece to transform manuscripts into what science continues to need: formally vetted, published articles, archived for efficient information retrieval. High school students are taught to be careful in selecting information sources on the raucous, ungoverned Internet. Doesn't the same dictum apply even more for the scientific literature?

None of this means, though, that in science or in scientific publishing, we should resist Schumpeter's gale. It does mean working hard to make sure that modern science—a vessel for knowledge that took over 300 years to create—doesn't founder during the transition to better ways of promulgating and sharing information.

At this moment, federal research agencies, commercial and nonprofit publishers, libraries, universities, and others are developing solutions that won't weaken property incentives for private-sector investments in publicly funded research works. These measured, imaginative discussions offer the surest route to success. The operative principle is collaboration, not government mandates that stifle innovation and free enterprise—an assertion that I recently had the honor of defending before Congress. (See the online record of the March 29, 2012, hearing, "Federally Funded Research: Examining Public Access and Scholarly Publication Interests.")

The participants are studying ways to enhance the discoverability of research results and to promote "interoperability" among agencies, publishers, and third-party databases and platforms. They're devising better tools for journal content mining. Such improvements will aid everyone's access to new knowledge.

They're also considering pilot projects to test new ways to make content available beyond the research community, including free access in public libraries and nominally priced article rentals that would be technologically similar to movie and music rentals.

The participants fully appreciate both science's vital spirit of openness and the business realities. They understand copyright's promotion of creativity, innovation, and the integrity of the scholarly record. They see that this integrity underlies something else that's indispensable: a journal's hard-earned reputation. They also "get" an Internet-age development that reframes scientific collaboration: the rise of social networking.

As collaborative stewards of the scientific literature in the Internet age, they're seeking to strike a balance between public access and the sustenance of a renewed and updated scholarly publishing industry. Their success will matter for everyone.
The SPS Summer Interns start today. We will formally introduce them in a coming issue of AIP Matters. In the meantime, please join me in welcoming them. Also note that the Physics Olympic Team has begun their training camp at University of Maryland. Stay tuned!
Publishing Matters

Biomicrofluidic breakthroughs featured in a special topic of AIP journal

Gary White Pioneering work in the relatively new field of multiphase microfluidics is the subject of a special topic section in AIP's online-only journal Biomicrofluidics. Multiphase microfluidics deals with the formation and manipulation of fluids interacting with gases or other immiscible fluids in the form of microscopic drops and bubbles travelling through microchannels. Each drop or bubble can then potentially function as an individualized microcompartment for transporting cells or for carrying out isolated chemical or biological reactions at small scales.

Nine featured papers in the section cover a range of scientific inquiries, from basic research on the fundamental physics of fluid–fluid interactions to cutting-edge applications for experimental biology and materials science. Some of the featured work includes a study of the gas–liquid dynamics in carbonated water with potential applications in geochemistry and fuel cell technology; the synthesis of minimally invasive glucose-sensing microbeads (pictured) to monitor the glucose levels immediately surrounding a cell; and fundamental research on the forces that lead to microparticle concentration for microfluidic "plugs." Multiphase microfluidics is "a rapidly advancing area of interdisciplinary scientific investigation and technological innovation," write the editors in a preface to the special topic. More information and links to individual papers can be found at http://bmf.aip.org/multiphase_microfluidics.
Physics Resources Matters

Toni Sauncy named as interim SPS/ΣΠΣ director

Toni Sauncy AIP announced last week that Dr. Toni Sauncy of Angelo State University will join its Education Division on August 1, 2012, as interim director of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) and Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society. Sauncy has served as the president of SPS since 2009 and has a history of proven leadership, as demonstrated by her service on numerous collegiate and professional association committees, including those of APS and AAPT. See the announcement for more details.

Gary White Current SPS/ΣΠΣ director, Gary White, has been selected as the new rotating program officer at the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Undergraduate Education of the Directorate of Education and Human Resources. In this role, he will administer grants for NSF but will retain his affiliation with AIP, with plans to return after his rotation. Gary will be at AIP through the end of June.
Around AIP

Millie Dresselhaus wins the Kavli Prize

Mildrend Dresselhaus Former AIP Governing Board Chair, Mildred S. Dresselhaus, has been named recipient of the 2012 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience. Kavli Prizes recognize scientists for seminal advances in astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

According to the Kavli Foundation press release:
Over more than five decades, Dresselhaus has made multiple advances in helping to explain why the properties of materials structured at the nanoscale can vary so much from those of the same materials at larger dimensions.

Her early work on compounds made up of different chemical species sandwiched between graphite layers, known as graphite intercalation compounds, and carbon fibres, laid the groundwork for later discoveries concerning the famous C60 buckyball, carbon nanotubes, and graphene. Dresselhaus receives the prize for her research into uniform oscillations of elastic arrangements of atoms or molecules called phonons, phonon–electron interactions, and heat conductivity in nanostructures.
Read about the other Kavli Prize recipients in Physics Today's "We Here That" column.

APS' "Transit of Venus" party

The Public Outreach Department of APS is hosting a "Transit of Venus" viewing party on Tuesday, June 5th, from 5:45–8:30 pm to watch Venus pass in front of the sun (see http://www.transitofvenus.org/). This very rare astronomical event won't happen again until 2117. Interested staff will congregate on ACP's fifth-floor balcony. APS will have special solar viewing glasses so that everyone can safely watch the event. There will be beverages and snacks; guests are welcome to bring additional refreshments.
Off the Press
June 2012 PT cover Physics Today, June 2012

Cover: Microscopic crystals of magnetite—the most strongly magnetic mineral in nature—are the dominant carriers of remanent magnetization in rocks. A transmission electron microscopy technique known as electron holography can reveal the complexity of that magnetization, as shown in this half-micron-wide image. Arrows indicate the direction of the magnetic field component parallel to the sample's surface; magnetite-rich regions are outlined in white. (Image courtesy of Richard Harrison, University of Cambridge.).
Coming Up

Monday, June 4

  • Committee on Publishing (Melville, NY)
  • Society of Physics Students Summer Interns begin (College Park, MD)
  • 2012 US Physics Team welcome reception, University of Maryland–College Park

Tuesday, June 5

  • All staff quarterly update (Melville, NY)
  • APS' "Transit of Venus" party (College Park, MD)

June 4–29

  • Long Island Cares summer food drive (Melville, NY)

Thursday, June 7

  • AIP Development Board meeting (College Park, MD)
  • "Celebration of Scientific Citizenship" reception and art auction benefitting AIP Physics Resources Center programs and services (Washington, DC)
  • US Physics Team congressional visits (Washington, DC)

June 8–10

  • Physics Department Chairs Conference, cosponsored by AAPT/APS (College Park, MD)

Saturday, June 9

  • Corporate Associates Advisory Committee meeting (College Park, MD)

June 10–14

  • AAS 220th Meeting (Anchorage, AK)

Wednesday, June 13

  • Staff birthday breakfasts (Melville, NY and College Park, MD)
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