More on the proceedings
McCarty and Peters
McCarty_and_Peters at compuserve.com
Wed Nov 8 18:53:12 EST 2000
To the Coral List and the 2004 Symposium Organizers,
I have been following the debate about how to distribute the valuable
information from the next ICRS with interest. I also have about 15 years
of experience organizing national conferences and distributing technical
information for government clients.
I offer the following observations for your consideration.
First, the proceedings of the meetings are valuable to a wide range of
researchers, managers, and others with widely disparate information
technology capabilities. As noted by others on the list, many of the
world's reefs are in less developed parts of the globe. I suggest that all
three proposed modes of distribution be used, namely:
- Attendees should have the option to receive the hard copy of the
proceedings some time after the meeting. This should be available at a
cost commensurate with producing and distributing them, but not as a means
to recoup other meeting costs.
- Attendees, including students, should have the option to obtain the
proceedings on CD-ROM, some time after the meeting. Again, the cost should
reflect the production costs only.
- Information should be available via the web to non-attendees for free.
Given these three modes of distribution, the sensible approach is to use
the Adobe portable document format (PDF) for all documents. Among other
things, it is relatively inviolate and produces files of manageable size
for electronic transfer. Most importantly, the Acrobat Reader software is
available for free to users of a variety of different computer operating
(PC, Mac, Unix) from Adobe. The Reader software can also be included on
the CD-ROM at no cost, for those who may not want to download it from
The suggestion to use MS Word is impractical at best. First, by 2004,
Microsoft will probably have released at least one more update of Word, as
well as one or more new operating systems, and innumerable "service packs"
to fix the bugs in those releases. Given past experience, there is a good
chance that they will change the file format again, limiting the ability of
some people to access new Word files. In addition, MS Word is notorious
for "file bloat," producing word processing files of a much larger size
than other common word processing software for the exact same text. Bigger
files mean larger data storage requirements, including more CDs.
The suggestions of the RTF format or HTML are better than Word's native
format, but as noted by someone else, HTML files produced from Word are of
notoriously poor quality. The PDF format is far superior in terms of
graphics resolution and file size. Keep in mind that even in the US, many
of us still access the web via a modem and large file downloads are painful
and sometimes expensive. The situation in other countries is not
necessarily any better outside of universities.
Ove's original suggestion of submitting papers in advance of the meeting is
admirable, but largely impractical. While I have not seen the abstracts
from the Bali meeting, I'm certain that many contain phrases like "the
results will be discussed" and "conclusions will be drawn." These are well
known as euphemisms for "I have not done the experiment yet" and "I'm still
looking at the data." The coral research community is no different from
any other scientific constituency in that regard. Requiring completed
papers to be submitted several months in advance of the meeting will not
only eliminate submissions of important works in progress, it will limit
late-breaking study results. Yes, the author can mention them during the
presentation, but if they are not in the paper published in the
proceedings, they do not exist for all intents and purposes.
More importantly, this meeting is held once every four years. Is anyone
really that desperate for information that they cannot contact the author
privately after the meeting to obtain information that might not be
available in the proceedings for 6 months? A simple web-based list of
presenters, paper titles, e-mail addresses, and postal addresses would
cover those who need the information sooner rather than later.
Early provision of the papers also eliminates the important role of peer
review in compiling the information. There is great benefit to all to
obtain papers after some level of both technical and editorial review, and
that takes time. I do not know the position of the ICRS organizers, but at
many other major meetings, not every paper warrants inclusion in the
proceedings published after the meeting.
Otherwise, why not simply have a verbatim transcript of the meeting itself,
supplemented by copies of everyone's slides? I have been involved in a
national meeting that has done just that for 24 years. It can be
effective, but is not the same as a good quality set of proceedings that
have undergone some level of peer review.
Despite the fact that one can read the information off a computer screen
from a word processing file or a HTML file, many people still prefer hard
copy. As the population of coral researchers ages, this may be even more
of an issue. Although there are a large number of papers at this meeting,
there may still be only a few in which one has an intense interest. Trying
to find that one paper three years from now on a CD, or on a web site that
may not be there anymore, is less than convenient. Therefore, we need to
be able to print off good quality paper copies locally. The PDF format
facilitates that. Again, the Acrobat Reader software is free, unlike Word
or other word processing packages. And as anyone who has ever tried to
print a web page knows, HTML is not the same as desktop publishing or word
processing. Graphics move out of place depending on your screen
resolution, default font size, or actual printer used. No web author can
control those variables and others sufficiently to present the sort of
information that is embodied in a formal scientific paper and only a fool
In summary, three modes of distribution are readily available and are
easily interconnected. Get the papers in an electronic format of the
author's choosing, i.e., any common word processing software. After review
and acceptance, convert them all to PDF files. Print the paper copy from
the final PDF files, bind it and mail it to those who want it enough to pay
the cost. Put all the PDF files on a CD-ROM (or two) and mail that to
those who prefer that format and cost. Create some relatively simple HTML
files for a web site dedicated to the proceedings. At the simplest, a
table of the authors and paper titles could be used to link to each PDF. A
bit more effort could yield a searchable database of authors, titles, and
key words that links the user to the PDF files. Post it on a web site
managed by the meeting organizers, publicize it, and keep it available
until the next meeting.
The first two formats bear the brunt of the production costs in any event,
thus allowing the free distribution of the information via the web. The
web site should also contain information on how to order the whole
proceedings on CD-ROM, again, at a cost commensurate with producing that
As for whether or not we should be debating this - why not? The organizing
committee appears to have done an very good job on the Bali meeting,
despite the logistical problems of such a large meeting and so many
papers. The organizers for the 10th meeting have a daunting task in front
of them too. But without the speakers and the audience, there would not be
a meeting. If we do not speak up here and now, when we will ever be heard?
That my two cents (apparently, four cents Australian).
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