Live-blog: the Future of Scholarly Scientific Communication
April 20, 2015
I’m at the Royal Society today and tomorrow as part of the Future of Scholarly Scientific Communication conference. Here’s the programme.
I’m making some notes for my own benefit, and I thought I might as well do them in the form of a blog-post, which I will continuously update, in case anyone else is interested.
I stupidly didn’t make notes on the first two speakers, but let’s pick up from the third:
Deborah Shorley, ex-librarian of Imperial College London
Started out by saying that she feels her opinion, as a librarian, is irrelevant, because librarians are becoming irrelevant. A pretty incendiary opening!
“Scientific communication in itself doesn’t matter; what matters is that good science be communicated well.”
And regarding the model of giving papers to publishers gratis, then paying them for the privilege of reading them:
“I can’t think of any other area where such a dopey business model pertains.”
(On which, see Scott Aaronson’s brilliant take on this in his review of The Access Principle — the article that first woke me up to the importance of open access.)
Shorey wants to bring publishing skills back in-house, to the universities and their libraries, and do it all themselves. As far as I can make out, she simply sees no need for specialist publishers. (Note: I do not necessarily endorse all these views.)
“If we don’t seize the opportunity, market forces will prevail. And market forces in this case are not pretty.”
Robert Parker, ex-head of publishing, Royal Society of Chemistry
Feels that society publishers allowed themselves to be overtaken by commercial publishers. Notes that when he started working for the RSC’s publishing arm, it was “positively dickensian”, using technology that would mostly have been familiar to Gutenberg. Failure to engage with authors and with technology allowed the commercial publishers to get ahead — something that is only now being redressed.
He’s talking an awful lot about the impact factors of their various journals.
My overall impression is that his perspective is much less radical than that of Deborah Shorley, wanting learned-society publishers to be better able to compete with the commercial publishers.
Gary Evoniuk, policy director at Glaxo Smith Klein
GSK submits 300-400 scientific studies for publication each year.
Although the rise of online-only journals means there is no good reason to not publish any finding, they still find that negative results are harder to get published.
“The paper journal, and the paper article, will soon be dead. This makes me a little bit sad.”
He goes further and wonders whether we need journal articles at all? When actual results are often available long before the article, is the context and interpretation that it provides valuable enough to be worth all the effort that’s expended on it? [My answer: yes — Ed.]
Discussion now follows. I probably won’t attempt to blog it (not least because I will want to participate). Better check out the twitter stream.
Nigel Shadbolt, Open Data Institute
Begin by reflecting on a meeting ten years ago, convened at Southampton by Stevan Harnad, on … the future of scholarly scientific communication.
Still optimistic about the Semantic Web, as I guess we more or less have to be. [At least, about many separate small-sw semantic webs — Ed.] We’re starting to see regular search-engines like Google taking advantage of available machine-readable data to return better results.
Archiving data is important, of course; but it’s also going to be increasingly important to archive algorithms. github is a useful prototype of this.
David Lambert, president/CEO, internet2
Given how the digital revolution has transformed so many fields (shopping, auctions, newspapers, movies) why has scholarly communication been so slow to follow? [Because the incumbents with a vested interesting in keeping things as they are have disproportionate influence due to their monopoly ownership of content and brands — Ed.]
Current publication models are not good at handling data. So we have to build a new model to handle data. In which case, why not build a new model to handle everything?
New “born-digital” researchers are influenced by the models of social networks: that is going to push them towards SN-like approaches of communicating more stuff, more often, in smaller unit. This is going to affect how scholarly communication is done.
Along with this goes an increasing level of comfort with collaboration. [I’m not sure I see that — Ed.]
Bonus section: tweets from Stephen Curry
He posted these during the previous talk. Very important:
Ritu Dhand, Nature
[A disappointing and unconvincing apologia for the continuing existence and importance of traditional publishers, and especially Nature. You would think that they, and they alone, guard the gates of academia from the barbarians. *sigh*. — Ed.]
Georgina Mace, UCL
[A defence of classical peer-review. Largely an overview of how peer-review is supposed to work.]
“It’s not perfect, it has its challenges, but it’s not broken yet.”
Richard Smith, ex-editor of BMJ
[An attack on classical peer-review.]
“Peer review is faith-, not evidence-based; ineffective; a lottery; slow; expensive; wasteful; ineffective; easily abused; biased; doesn’t detect fraud; irrelevant.
Apart from that, it’s perfect.”
He doesn’t want to reform peer-review, he wants to get rid of it. Publish, let the world decide. That’s the real peer-review.
He cites studies supporting his assertions. Cochrane review concluded there is no evidence that peer-review is effective. The Ioannidis paper shows that most published findings are false.
Someone should be recording this talk. It’s solid gold.
Annual cost of peer-review is $1.9 billion.
[There is much, much more. I can’t get it down quickly enough.]
Georgina Mace’s rebuttal
… amounts to contradicting Richard Smith’s evidence-supported statements, but she provides no evidence in support of her position.
Richard Smith’s counter-counter rebuttal
… cites a bunch more studies. This is solid. Solid.
For those who missed out, see Smith’s equally brutal paper Classical peer review: an empty gun. I find his conclusion (that we should just dump peer-review) emotionally hard to accept, but extremely compelling based on actual, you know, evidence.
Fascinating to hear the level of denial in the room. People really, really want to keep believing in peer-review, in spite of evidence. I understand that impulse, but I think it’s unbecoming in scientists.
The challenge for peer-review advocates is: produce evidence that it has value. No-one has responded to that.
Richard Sever, Cold Spring Harbour Press
Richard presents the BiorXive preprint server. Turns out it’s pronounced “bio-archive”, not “bye-orx-ive”.
Nothing in this talk will be new to regular SV-POW! readers, but he makes good, compelling points in favour of preprinting (which we of course agree with!)
Elizabeth Marincola, CEO, PLOS
PLOS is taking steps towards improving peer-review:
- Use of article-level metrics
- Moves towards open review
- Move toward papers evolving over time, not being frozen at the point of publication
- Better recognition of different kinds of contribution to papers
- Intention to make submitted paper available to view before peer-review has been carried out, subject only to checks on ethical and technical standard: they aim to make papers available in “a matter of days”.
She notes that much of this is not original: elements of these approaches are in F1000 Research, BiorXiv, etc.
Jan Velterop, science publisher with everyone at some point.
“I’m basically with Richard Smith when it comes to abolishing peer review, but I have a feeling it won’t happen in the next few weeks.”
The situation of publishers:
“Academia throws money at you. What do you do? You pick it up.”
Velterop gets a BIG laugh for this:
“Does peer-review benefit science? I think it does; and it also benefits many other journals.”
He quotes a Scholarly Kitchen blog-post as saying that the cost of technical preparation at PubMed Central — translating from an MS-Word manuscript to valid JATS XML — at $47. So why do we pay $3000 APCs? Surely the peer-review phase doesn’t cost $2953?
Update: here is that Scholarly Kitchen article.
Velterop’s plan is to streamline the review-and-publish process as follows:
- Author writes manuscript.
- She solicits reviews from two experts, using her own knowledge of the field to determine who is suitably skilled.
- They eventually sign off (perhaps after multiple rounds of revisions)
- The author submits the manuscript, along with the endorsements.
- The editor checks with the endorsers that they really have given endorsement.
- The article is posted.
And at that point in the proceedings, my battery was running dangerously low. I typed a tweet: “low battery may finally force me to shut up! #RSSC”, but literally between typing at and hitting the Tweet button, my laptop shut down. So that’s it for day 1. I’ll do a separate post for the second and final day.