30 June 2009

Why Scientific Publishing Will Never be the Same

For those of us tracking open access and its wider import, it's pretty clear that scientific publishing has changed for ever. But for some within the industry, there remains the desperate hope that all this new-fangled open, collaborative stuff will just blow over.

Forget about it: as this magisterial analysis shows, not only is there no way for traditional publishing to get from there to here - it's a terrifying leap across a minimum to the next maximum - but the most exciting stuff is *already* happening in other forms of publishing:

What’s new today is the flourishing of an ecosystem of startups that are experimenting with new ways of communicating research, some radically different to conventional journals. Consider Chemspider, the excellent online database of more than 20 million molecules, recently acquired by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Consider Mendeley, a platform for managing, filtering and searching scientific papers, with backing from some of the people involved in Last.fm and Skype. Or consider startups like SciVee (YouTube for scientists), the Public Library of Science, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, vibrant community sites like OpenWetWare and the Alzheimer Research Forum, and dozens more. And then there are companies like Wordpress, Friendfeed, and Wikimedia, that weren’t started with science in mind, but which are increasingly helping scientists communicate their research. This flourishing ecosystem is not too dissimilar from the sudden flourishing of online news services we saw over the period 2000 to 2005.

It’s easy to miss the impact of blogs on research, because most science blogs focus on outreach. But more and more blogs contain high quality research content. Look at Terry Tao’s wonderful series of posts explaining one of the biggest breakthroughs in recent mathematical history, the proof of the Poincare conjecture. Or Tim Gowers recent experiment in “massively collaborative mathematics”, using open source principles to successfully attack a significant mathematical problem. Or Richard Lipton’s excellent series of posts exploring his ideas for solving a major problem in computer science, namely, finding a fast algorithm for factoring large numbers. Scientific publishers should be terrified that some of the world’s best scientists, people at or near their research peak, people whose time is at a premium, are spending hundreds of hours each year creating original research content for their blogs, content that in many cases would be difficult or impossible to publish in a conventional journal. What we’re seeing here is a spectacular expansion in the range of the blog medium. By comparison, the journals are standing still.

What's even better about this piece is that it's not content to point out why traditional publishing has big problems: it also offers some practical suggestions of what people *should* be looking at:

These opportunities can still be grasped by scientific publishers who are willing to let go and become technology-driven, even when that threatens to extinguish their old way of doing things. And, as we’ve seen, these opportunites are and will be grasped by bold entrepreneurs. Here’s a list of services I expect to see developed over the next few years. A few of these ideas are already under development, mostly by startups, but have yet to reach the quality level needed to become ubiquitous. The list could easily be continued ad nauseum - these are just a few of the more obvious things to do.

Fantastic stuff - do read it all if you have time.

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Nicholas Bohm said...

For another interesting example of open science in action, see this paper posted for peer review:

or http://tinyurl.com/nseqvk

glyn moody said...

Fascinating - and brave. Many thanks for that.