Posts Tagged Scientific journal

DITA – A framework for scientific publishing?

There are two industry recognised standards for XML based documentation. These are Docbook and DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture).

Docbook is the older of the two specifications and created specifically for technical documentation. DITA, is a younger specification which grew out of IBM, and is referred to as having its own architecture and was designed to provide structure to more than just a book. Both specifications are OASIS standards.

A DITA topic

As with XML schemas, both specifications can be extended to include bespoke features. However, Docbook is based more on a book structure with Sections and subsections, where as DITA is built around topics that can be built up in any arrangement based on a document map.  A DITA topic is open to specialisation itself, however, a topic has only three required elements

  1. An id attribute
  2. A title
  3. A body
A topic also has numerous optional elements, utilising HTML syntax. e.g,




A topic can exist as a single XML file which can be composed into any arrangement for publication through the use of a document map. A DITA structure would present a more flexible architecture where the same “topic”, i.e a journal article section, such as an abstract, materials and methods, or results, could be included with ease more than one publication, correctly referenced. In this respect DITA is more like an object-oriented document schema, and can be more easily repurposed (in terms of structure) for any output format (i.e pdf, HTML). In the same respect, Docbook can be configured with some work to behave on a more topic by topic basis and DITA can support a book based methodology. They are after all both XML schemas and are equally extensible or open to specialisation.

As its a standard, whole ecosystems have emerged which makes use of the DITA architecture. For example, DITA for publishers provides libraries to convert DITA markup into HTML, PDF, EPUB, and Kindle rendering support. This allows content structures in DITA to be repurposed for different audiences or different devices with relative ease.

I have recently started using DITA as an architecture to represent content, primarily designed for books. However, with new demands appearing for different delivery mechanisms of the traditional textbook, such as Web delivery and ebooks, DITA is proving to be immensely powerful to deliver the same content through different mediums with relative ease and speed. In using it, it seems obvious that a DITA architecture would benefit the representation of content within a journal article, allowing references re-purposing and multiple format delivery. Maybe a topic for discussion through the Beyond the PDF forum.

In the end, it’s just XML, so I wont repeat the virtues of content markup through XML. However, for me its main advantage is the object oriented -like topic structure as a working architecture.

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Is a knol a scientific publishing platform?

Image representing Knol as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase, source unknown

Google has recently released knol, which most people are calling Google’s version of Wikipedia. The main difference between a knol and a wikipedia article is that a knol has associated authorship or ownership against an article. This factor has caused some issues an outcries focusing on the merits of the wisdom of crowds verses the merits of single individuals and the whole ethos if information dissemination on the Web. (There are too many to cite but some discussion can be found on FriendFeed+knol)

However, on looking at knol and having a snoop around I was not drawn into thinking about competing with Wikipedia or advertising revenue, rather what struck me is that a knol, with owner authorship looks incredibly like a scientific journal publication platform…

According to the Introduction to knol (or instructions for authors)  you to can write about anything you like, so disseminiation of science must fall under that. You can collaborate on a unit of knowledge (or manuscript) with other authors and they are listed – I assume the contribution to the text will also be stored in the revision history, makes the authors contribution section a little easier to write. It is not limited to one article per subject, so this allows all manner of opinions or scientific findings to be reported contrasted and compared with each other. You can select your copyright and license for your article (rather than handing it over). You can request a (peer-) review of the article, However more important the article is available for continuous peer-review in the form of comments on the article.

So is a knol a Google Wikipedia or is it a scientific publishing platform? What would prevent publishiing a knol and getting credit (hyperlinks), citations (analytics) impact factors (page ranks) in the same way you do for the traditional scientific publishers? You would of course not have to pay for the privilage of trying to diseminate your findings, loosing copyright and then asking your institution to pay for a subscription so you and your lab members can read your own articles. In fact you, as an author (lab, institution) can even share revenue for your article via adsense.

Some traditional publishers are trying to embrace new mechanisms of disseminating scientific knowledge. Only today Nature Reviews Genetics (as described by Nacsent) published the paper Towards a cyberinfrastructure for the biological sciences: progress, visions and challenges by Lincoln Stein and published the supplementary material as a community editable wiki.

With knol as a scientific publishing platform, what can the traditional scientific publishing houses now offer for the publishing fees? Faster turn around? revenue sharing? Are they really still the gatekeepers of scientific knowledge? Or in the Web 2.0 era has that mantle passed to Google? Certainly, in the first instance it would make a nice preceedings platform.

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