Press Release

Online physics archive that is transforming global science communication, ‘arXiv.org,’ is moving from Los Alamos to Cornell University

By SpaceRef Editor
July 20, 2001
Filed under , ,

ITHACA, N.Y. — The Los Alamos E-Print Archive, which is widely credited with
revolutionizing the way physical scientists and mathematicians communicate,
is moving from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico to
Cornell University.

Physicist Paul Ginsparg, who created and maintains the archive — known by
scientists around the world as “arXiv.org” — will join the Cornell faculty
this fall, and he is bringing the archive with him. It will become a service
of Cornell University Library, which has developed several other digital
academic resources. Both Ginsparg and library officials express hope that
the archive will improve and expand in its new home.

The archive currently is receiving about 2 million visits a week, more than
two-thirds of them from outside the United States.

“There should be many advantages to being at a private educational
institution,” Ginsparg said. However, he noted, the LANL environment was
essential for launching the archive in 1991. “It probably wouldn’t have
been possible had I been a university faculty member with too many other
obligations. But now it has achieved a level of maturity which makes it
possible to institutionalize in a new and more appropriate academic
setting,” he said.

The arXiv has operated with about $300,000 in annual funding from the
National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and LANL. For the
time being, Cornell and LANL will share the costs and services previously
provided by LANL. The arXiv will remain a cooperative effort between LANL
and Cornell, since much key expertise will remain at the LANL library,
Ginsparg said. The existing LANL server will become a primary backup.

Ginsparg already has been collaborating with the Digital Library Group
in Cornell’s computer science department from a distance. He will become
a member of Cornell’s Faculty of Computing and Information (FCI), a
universitywide, interdisciplinary unit, separate from but related to the
computer science department. The FCI was formed last year in recognition
of the fact that computing has become an integral part of almost every
academic discipline. Ginsparg, who earned his Ph.D. in physics at Cornell
in 1981, expects to divide his time equally between work on the archive
and physics research. His field is string theory, the so-called “theory
of everything” that aims to unify all of the forces of nature. “I am
eagerly looking forward to having all the routine aspects of the arXiv
handled by information professionals so that I can focus again on
cutting-edge areas in research,” he said.

Ginsparg was named a fellow of the American Physical Society in November
2000 “for his work relating to chiral symmetry on the lattice, for
fundamental contributions to string theory and for establishment and
development of the revolutionary Los Alamos E-Print Archive.”

“I think ultimately it will be seen as a coup for the university to have
attracted him and the archive,” said Sarah Thomas, Cornell University
librarian. “It’s a captivating example of how technology has interacted
with the advancement of knowledge.” But she added that she understands
some people are apprehensive about the impact online publishing of
scientific information may have on traditional journals.

The arXiv contains some 170,000 brief papers in physics, mathematics and
computer science, with almost 3,000 new submissions coming in each month.
Unlike articles submitted to professional journals, papers submitted to
the archive are immediately available online, at no cost to the user.
Also unlike articles submitted to professional journals, postings to
arXiv.org are not peer-viewed. Except for some rudimentary screening
for inappropriate off-topic submissions, almost anyone can post almost
anything. It’s up to the reader to decide what is worthwhile.

The result, Ginsparg has said, is to “level the playing field.” Researchers
in Third World countries, where paper copies of journals may arrive months
after publication, if at all, have the same access to research reports as
do researchers in industrialized nations. On the other side of the coin,
researchers in small, obscure places have just as much chance to make their
voices heard as those in Ivy League halls. In one recent incident, Lubos
Motl, an undergraduate physics student at Charles University in Prague,
Czech Republic, scooped the Ph.D.s with an elegant solution to a major
problem. On the Internet, it seems, no one knows you’re an undergraduate.

Ginsparg believes that all scientific publishing eventually will move to the
Internet, doing away with paper journals. That move will streamline a system
where, as Ginsparg puts it, scholars give their material to publishers for
free and their institutions then pay thousands of dollars in subscription
fees to read it in the journals. The compensation, up to now at least, has
been that the leading journals provide “peer review,” where respected
members of a field of study read submitted articles and report to the
journal on whether or not they represent good, original research. The
prestige of passing peer review and publishing in an established journal is
still important to the careers of academic researchers, as is the quality
control provided to the archival literature.

The papers that appear on arXiv.org are technically “preprints,” the
electronic equivalent of paper reports that researchers circulate among
themselves in advance of formal publication. But more and more, at least
in the physical sciences, researchers are communicating new results via
their online postings, with journal publication a later formality.

Cornell librarians hope to explore the extension of this idea into other
disciplines. “There are a number of initiatives to look at how that would
work in the biological sciences,” Thomas said. “I would want to position
Cornell so that we could be a very active contributor to the reconception
of scholarly communication.” Cornell currently is engaged in a project to
facilitate the electronic publication of mathematics journals, so far with
strict controls on access. But, Thomas said, a movement is under way to
persuade publishers to allow open access beginning several months after
publication. “There are some models that suggest that the economic value
of information [to publishers] declines sharply as it ages,” she explained.

Ginsparg will begin transferring content to Cornell servers shortly, he said,
with the expectation that the archive will officially move at the end of
summer. For users the transition should be seamless. The URL will remain
the same: http://arXiv.org . (The old URL, http://xxx.lanl.gov still works
and will continue to be a primary backup site.) The move, Ginsparg said,
coincides with the 10th anniversary of the archive, as well as the 20th
anniversary of his Cornell Ph.D. and the first birthday of his daughter.

Related World Wide Web sites:

The following sites provide additional information on this news release.
Some might not be part of the Cornell University community, and Cornell has
no control over their content or availability.

* Ginsparg’s online article on the archive, with thoughts on the future of
scholarly communication
http://arXiv.org/blurb/pg01unesco.html

* Cornell Faculty of Computing and Information
http://www.cs.cornell.edu/fci/

* Cornell Digital Library Research Group
http://www.cs.cornell.edu/cdlrg/

SpaceRef staff editor.