Launch Of A New Kind Of Scientific Journal On The World Wide Web: Living Reviews In Relativity

January 26, 1998

On Jan. 26, 1998, the Albert Einstein Institute, a scientific research institute of Germany¹s Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, launches a scientific journal of a new kind. The journal is called Living Reviews in Relativity. Living Reviews in Relativity takes advantage of the flexibility of the Internet, World-Wide-Web, and modern computer technology to provide what is hoped to become an important research tool for scientists working around the world.

The World-Wide-Web has made it possible for newspapers and scientific journals to deliver their articles to subscribers electronically. There are now electronic versions of many important existing scientific journals, as well as new journals that exist primarily on the Web. These journals mostly publish new scientific results, delivering hundreds of new articles to scientists in many fields every month. Some journals are called review journals; they publish articles which summarize and explain recent work by many scientists in their selected subjects.

Living Reviews in Relativity is such a review journal. However, Living Reviews in Relativity goes beyond merely distributing its articles on the Web. Uniquely, its authors promise to keep their articles "living": authors will revise and update them periodically as the research field develops. Articles will remain current as long as their research areas remain active.

On top of this, the journal will be free of subscription charges, provided as a service to the scientific community by the Albert Einstein Institute. As the number of articles grows, the journal will expand into an authoritative and comprehensive survey of current research in relativity. The subjects embraced by the journal include the big bang, black holes, gravitational waves, quantum gravity ­ in fact, all the modern applications of Einstein¹s theory of relativity. As an electronic journal, Living Reviews encourages its authors to include Web links to important scientific resources: articles available in electronic form elsewhere, Web sites of scientific institutions and projects, Web-based bibliographies or databases, movies and other graphics, and so on.

According to the journal¹s Editor in Chief, Prof Bernard Schutz, "We hope that Living Reviews will assist researchers at all levels, from graduate student to professor, and in all parts of the world, to find out where research is going in any field at any time. This will be particularly helpful to third-world scientists and scientists at small universities, where local libraries are not comprehensive. But it will also save even scientists at major universities hours of hunting around in paper journals to learn what the current state of research in a field is. The scientists at the Einstein Institute itself will benefit in this way." Although it is published in Germany, the journal¹s web site is accessible from anywhere in the world. In addition, it will soon be "mirrored" at other locations, so that access can be faster.

The Albert Einstein Institute, also called the Max Planck Institute , is located in Potsdam. The institute was established 3 years ago to pursue research in gravitation theory and its applications in modern physics and astronom. Schutz is one of its directors. The Institute has built up a first-class computer facility to assist numerical investigations of general relativity, such as the simulation of collisions between black holes. Its 60 research scientists come from many different countries, and it has become the largest research center in the world devoted to research in general relativity.

A journal like Living Reviews would not be possible without modern computer and network technology. Authors prepare their articles on their own computers and submit them electronically to the journal¹s editorial office in Potsdam, Germany. The staff of the journal process the articles through the journal¹s specially-designed software, turning them into Web pages that can be read by anyone who has access to the Web. Once an article has passed the journal¹s stringent editorial process and been approved, it takes the journal staff only a few minutes to process it and place it on the Web. A revised version can be prepared by the author from the computer file containing the original article with only a relatively small amount of extra work.

The journal can be free of subscription charges because the cost of running it is small: there are no printing or postal costs, and the editorial staff consists of a single Managing Editor (Dr Jennifer Wheary) with some part-time assistance. The automatic software systems used by the journal have been developed with considerable help from the computational scientists at the Institute; once this software is in place it will require a smaller amount of maintenance and further development to keep it working. Review articles are solicited by the journal¹s editorial board, which allows the workload of the editorial staff to be kept at a manageable level.

Living Reviews is complementary to another Web-based resource that is extensively used by physicists, the Los Alamos Preprint Archive. Los Alamos is another free service, which holds preprints, versions of articles that are not yet published. Normally these articles will eventually appear in standard journals, but Los Alamos makes them available to the community much earlier. Even after they are published, the version held by Los Alamos provides a convenient electronic source for the articles. Review articles in Living Reviews contain many citations of articles held at Los Alamos, and readers can simply click on the link in any of these citations to see the original article.

The quality of articles in Living Reviews is guaranteed by two factors: articles are solicited from top scientists selected by the journal¹s editorial board, and the articles will not be published until they have been refereed. This means that articles are sent to a small number of specialists for comment and approval before being published. The refereeing system is the way all premier scientific journals ensure quality, and it is an added attraction to authors and readers alike: they know that articles published in refereed journals are more highly respected than those published without refereeing, as for example in the proceedings of scientific conferences. There is considerable enthusiasm for Living Reviews in Relativity among senior scientists in the field: of the first 50 scientists who were invited by the editorial board to write review articles, more than 60% accepted. The support of the journal¹s authors bodes well for the future of the journal.

The journal will begin with a small fraction of the articles currently in preparation, but is expected to build up its coverage and content over the first year to hold between 40 and 60 review articles. At this rate, it will comprehensively cover research in relativity in 3 or 4 years. The journal plans to develop in other ways, guided by its readers. Already, for example, it is offering readers the opportunity to search the lists of articles that are cited by Living Reviews articles. These citations are classified by keywords, and readers can search for citations according to these keywords, even downloading the results of searches for inclusion into their own bibliography files. Living Reviews also plans to cooperate with other electronic journals to provide Web links between citations in Living Reviews and the electronic versions of the cited articles, wherever they exist, automatically.


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