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Distributed Journal Creation: another paradigm falls to the immediacy of the Internet

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Distributed Journal Creation: another paradigm falls to the immediacy of the Internet
Arthur C. Huntley, M.D.
Dermatology Online Journal 3(2): 10

Access is key. Even if medical information is reliable and potentially useful, if it is difficult to access it might as well not exist. And one of the promises of the World Wide Web is improved access to information. Traditional impediments to access include cost, location, and dissemination (information should be freely available any time it is needed). Another aspect of access has to do with language.

Over the last four months Dermatology Online Journal has partnered with our Portuguese and Spanish colleagues to provide translation into these languages and thereby improve access to information in the Journal. The result is that both issues in volume 3 are available to readers in three languages. Due to the enthusiastic participation of two translation teams we are able to offer medical information in a native language to a much greater portion of the dermatology world.

Offering translations of on-line material is counter to the trend of Internet development today. Probably owing to the major US role in Internet development, English is the dominant language of the Web. Although on-line articles are intended for world consumption, most sites only provide access in English. Perhaps this should come as no surprise from a country that has traditionally not emphasized proficiency in other languages.

There have been several demonstrations in the Journal that it is technically easy to offer translation of a given work. In the first issue, an article by Radoslaw Spiewak on histamine testing was complete with translation of the full text into Polish. Another article in the same issue on browsers and viewers provided translation into an executive summary. Unlike traditional print media, space is not an issue. And since browser software assembles the articles from both text and image files, in most instances translation can be limited to the relatively small text files alone.

Improving access through the use of additional languages shouldn't apply only to the readers. Another partnership with our Spanish and Portuguese speaking colleagues, perhaps of greater significance than simple translation, is distributed editing. The anglocentric concept of traditional medical journals has been that 'any material of worth needs to be written and published in English.' There may have been some value to this assertion in the immediate post-World War II era when most major science was being performed in the English speaking world, however there is currently a great deal of expertise in the non-English speaking world which is not easily shared because of the language barrier. Does it make sense that excellent academic work of our Spanish and Portuguese colleagues should be first translated into English to undergo peer review, and then translated back into the original language for those readers? Our colleagues have the expertise and are willing to review material in the original language. With that in mind, we have now partnered with academic counterparts in Brazil and Spain to undertake peer review in the original language for these areas. For these works then, English will be the translation.

An interesting analogy of this system exists in the computer world. There has been a recent trend of replacing mainframe computers with smaller units which are interconnected: distributed computing. We are moving away from the traditional centralized structure of publishing to a system of several networked sites with centrally coordinated but independent processing of material. The new arrangement then is one of distributed editing and production of the Journal. Hopefully the end result will be increased efficiency and ease of access.

What are some of the difficulties one might anticipate with distributed journal production? Ensuring uniformity of review will require a great deal of coordination of the editors. Also having many languages involved is similar to having multiple operating systems. A system will function best when all of the sites are able to freely communicate with each other. English-Spanish-Portuguese is a minor challange compared to the possible addition of Japanese, German, and French. If we are able to partner with colleagues in those areas, double translations (e.g. Japanese to English to Portuguese) may be necessary.

The distributed production of the Journal would have been difficult had it not been for the immediacy of communication provided by the Internet. Electronic management of manuscripts is far more efficient for review publication than traditional transcription, review, and editing of hard copy with communication of hard--copy through the mail. Although coordination needs to be centralized, the efficiency of fully electronic version allows for distribution of the creation effort. It isn't the independent functioning of of each site, but the connection and coordination of the effort which provides the greatest promise.

The Journal was created with the intention that it be a shared effort in the academic community, a new journal for the world of dermatology. And now we can share in the wealth of expertise of our colleagues with removal of the language barrier to both reading and contributing to this forum. We hope these innovations will serve to demonstrate yet another way that publishing on the World Wide Web can provide improved access to medical information.

© 1997 Dermatology Online Journal