The Electronic Word
Publication on the Internet has been in the headlines recently. First, the posting of the Starr report on the grand jury investigation of President Clinton created an electronic logjam as hundreds of thousands of people downloaded copies of the report. Then a group of hackers took over the New York Times website and forced the paper to shut it down. Now Issues is posting an online archive of back issues as well as making the full text of new issues available online.
Well, maybe the stories are not of equal significance. And maybe the headline for the Issues story should be "Science and Technology Magazine Finally Discovers Electronic Age." Many scientific journals as well as several commercial magazines are certainly well ahead of Issues in taking advantage of the Internet. We have been posting selected articles as well as the table of contents on our website for many years, and we participated in the Electronic Newsstand, an early cooperative effort by a number of magazines to reach readers through the Net. Still, why did it take so long to mount a comprehensive effort?
First, it costs money. Designing and maintaining a website requires some hardware, some software, and a lot of staff time. We do not intend to charge for access, and although we expect the site to attract new subscribers to the print edition, we doubt that it will offset the cost. In other words, our sponsors had to decide to subsidize this effort in the interest of expanding public access to informed debate about S&T policy. This makes sense only when the audience is large and broad enough to justify the investment. That time has arrived.
Second, we wanted to be convinced that being on the Net could do something to enhance the service that Issues provides. Creating a searchable database of Issues articles will certainly make it easier to find information on a specific topic. This will also be linked to the National Academy Press database, which includes the text of more than 1,000 National Research Council reports. We will begin by posting the past three years of articles and will gradually expand the collection.
In addition, we will be able to provide more timely information. We plan to post Forum letters at a special site as soon as they arrive, and we will make it possible for visitors to the site to post their comments immediately. We hope that this will become a focal point for lively and timely discussion of S&T policy and will eventually transform Issues from a quarterly to a continuous publication. An edited version of the online debates will appear in the print edition.
Issues will also be providing material to What's New, a weekly electronic bulletin distributed by the National Academy of Sciences that will provide brief announcements about publications and projects. You can receive this bulletin by signing up at the NAS website.
Finally, we want to develop Issues into a gateway to information about S&T policy. Each article will incorporate hyperlinks to related sources of information, and we will be adding general links to other useful websites. Issues has always been edited for the nonscholar and has therefore eschewed footnotes. Hyperlinks make it possible to preserve our readable style at the same time that we serve the scholar's need for more detailed information and citations.