All Change in Scholarly Communications: How are the Players – Veterans and Newbies – Adapting?

Last month, in characteristically bracing January Berlin weather, around 250 intrepid speakers and delegates attended the 11th Academic Publishing in Europe (APE – pronounced “Ahhhpay”) meeting. Keep an eye on Twitter #ape2016 as all of the presentations were recorded and so should become available in the near future.

A number of familiar characters – large publishers, established platform providers, and so forth – whose language seems to have evolved over the past few years – spoke about ‘openness’ and ‘sharing’ rather than preserving business models. Todd Toler of Wiley, for instance, expressed the “publisher’s value proposition” as having shifted from content provision – basically “moving stuff about” to “strengthening knowledge connections”. This feels like a real turning of tides; such players are now actively aiding and abetting our efforts to garner significant knowledge from our scholarly ecosystem.

In point of fact, there was a general theme around intelligence rather than simply the power of data. Barend Mons bemoaned the existence of “a Christmas tree of hyperlinks and the malpractice of supplementary material’”, instead calling for the training of experts to really understand how machine learning and human interrogation of data can be meshed together to form a powerful whole – “Open Science as a Social Machine” (keep an eye on the IDCC programme in Amsterdam later this month, as he’ll be expanding on the topic there). Meanwhile, Emma Green, of Zapnito – a start-up that aids knowledge-based companies to maximise the impact of their associated experts spoke of growing the ‘knowledge economy’ by reducing the noise and chatter, thereby freeing up the collective intelligence.

John Sack of Highwire’s approach was to examine frictions in the workflow. If workflow is ‘a way of getting things done,’ then instances of friction – with the possible exception of a review stage – largely involve the loss of efficiency. Currently most journal workflows are still based on the original print journal format, but with the version of record shifting online, the resulting misalignments between what is desired and what is produced are causing delays, and infringements of established rules (such as copyright). Friction-reducing tools that can support and simplify the generation, finding, and attribution of scholarly outputs are needed. This can be enabled by standards such as e.g. ORCID or ResearcherID for people, and by initiatives such as openRIF/VIVO for connecting people and their roles to their works and activities. This connectivity will surely boost quality, productivity, and the need for improved garnering of knowledge from our research landscape that generally arose as a theme across APE in general. This connectedness, according to Sack, is about a supported conversation amongst collaborators who are enabled by tools that sift, pre-curate and – potentially – publish their scholarly outputs.

Opportunities for new business models are appearing in a number of points in the workflow – Publons acknowledges and badges peer review activities, Overleaf provides templated support to write journal articles, and Elsevier is leveraging the new Mendeley Data service to enable authors to publish their data and link it immediately with journal articles.

At the same time, policy (=funding) is also moving in the same direction. Stephan Kuster, Head of Policy Affairs for Science Europe explained its function and mission. Science Europe is a think tank set up to support and advise EU National Research Funding Councils around on EU R&D policy issues. Open Access is one of nine key priorities, including enabling authors to hold copyright, supporting sustainable archiving, and publication and dissemination are integral part of research process and should be funded as such.

There was a thoughtful debate about Scholarly Communications Networks and whether they add value, which would not have been possible even a few years ago. Fred Dylla, Emeritus Executive Director of the American Institute of Physics, made the salient point that reputation of the journal still needs to be fundamentally challenged for the landscape to be really disrupted. Currently, the people and institutions making the key decisions about funding, tenure and promotion, are still fixated on journal reputations and impact factors. So, despite feeling as though there has been a lot of progress in the last few years, it also seems there’s still a lot to do.

Luckily there are several opportunities coming up to extend and develop our understanding of and strategies for adapting to this changing landscape. As well as the aforementioned IDCC later this month. And look out for the ALPSP Seminar on research data, digital preservation and innovation in March. Standing on the Digits of Giants is co-organised with the Digital Preservation Coalition and is designed to orientate and empower publishers, research managers and researchers to navigate and flourish in the new landscape.

Another key space to continue these discussions is in the context of the Force11 community, which aims to bring together many of the stakeholders needed at the table to effect change: policy makers, funders, researchers, technologists, publishers, informaticists, lawyers, etc. Force16 promises to be an exciting venue where we’ll be pushing scholarly communications into uncharted territory. Hope to see you there too.

hannah read