Live-blog: the Future of Scholarly Scientific Communication: Part 2, day 2

May 6, 2015

[Today’s live-blog is brought to you by Yvonne Nobis, science librarian at Cambridge, UK. Thanks, Yvonne! — Mike.]

Session 1 — The Journal Article: is the end in sight?

Slightly late start due to trains – !

Just arrived to hear Aileen Fyfe University of St Andrews saying that something similar to journal articles will be needed for ‘quite some time’.

Steven Hall, IOP.

The article still fulfils its primary role — the registration, dissemination, certification and archiving of scholarly information. The Journal Article still provides a fixed point — and researchers still see the article as a critical part of research — although it is now evolving into something much more fluid.

Steve then outlined some of the initiatives that IOP have implemented. Examples include the development of thesauri — every article is ‘semantically fingerprinted’. No particular claims are made for IOP innovation — some are broad industry initiatives — but demonstrate how the journal article has evolved.

(Personal bias: as a librarian I like the IOP journal and ebook offering!) IOP have worked with RIN on a study on the researcher behaviour of physical sciences — to research the impact of new technology on researchers. Primary conclusion: researchers in the physical sciences are conservative and oddly see the journal article as most important method of communicating research. (This seems at odds with use of arXiv?)


Mike Brady discusses the ‘floribunda’ of the 19th century scholarly publishing environment.

Sally Shuttleworth (Oxford) questions the move from the gentleman scholar to the publishing machinery of the 21st century and wonders if there will be a resurgence due to citizen science?

Tim Smith (CERN) proposes that change is being technologically driven.

Stuart Taylor (Royal Society publishing) agrees with Steve that there is disconnect between reality and outlandish speculations about what should be in place, and the ‘bells and whistles’ that publishers are adding in to the mix that are not used.

Cameron Neylon: what the web gives us the ability to separate content from display — and this gives us a huge opportunity — and many of us in the this room did predict the death of the article several years ago …(This was premature!)

Herman Hauser makes the valid point that it is well nigh impossible for a researcher now to understand the breadth of a whole field.

Ginny Barbour raises the question of incentives (the article still being the accepted de facto standard). The point was also raised that perhaps this meeting should be repeated with an audience 30 years younger…

No panel comment on this point, however I fear what many would say is that this meeting represents the apex of a pyramid, where these discussions have occurred for years in other conferences (for example, the various science online and force meetings) and have driven both innovation (novel publishing models) and the creation of tools.

I asked about (predictably enough) about use of arXiv — slightly surprised at the response to the RIN study.

Steve Hall: ‘science publishers are service providers’ — if scientific communities become clear about what they want, we can provide such services — but coherent thinking needs to underwrite this. Steve also questions the incentives put in place for researchers to publish in certain high impact journals and how this is damaging.

David Coloquhan raises the issues of perverse incentives for judging researchers, including altmetrics.

Steve Hall: arXiv won’t allow publishers on their governing bodies –and interestingly librarians (take note!) should be engaging with the storage of the data!

Aileen, in conclusion, questions how did the plurality of modes of communication we had in the 18th and 19th centuries get closed down to the level of purely journals? The issue of learned societies and their relationship with commercial agencies is often a cause for concern…

Session 2 How might scientists communicate in the future?

Mike Brady

the role of the speakers is to catalyse discussion amongst ourselves…

Anita de Waard (Elsevier)

350 years ago science was an individual enterprise, although now many large collaborations, much scientific discussion is still on a peer to peer level.

How do we unify the needs of the collective and individual scientists?

We need to create the systems of knowledge management that work for scientists, publishers and librarians.

Quotes John Perry Barlow: ‘Let us endeavour to build systems that allow a kid in Mali who wants to learn about proteomics to not be overwhelmed by the irrelevant and the untrue’ (It would be cruel to mention various issues with the Journal of Proteomics last year…)

Problem is the the paper is the overarching modus operandi. Citations to data are often citations to pictures. We need better ways of citing and connecting knowledge. ‘Papers are stories that persuade with data’, says Anita. She argues we need better ways of citing claims, and constructing chains of evidence that can be traced to their source.

For this we need tools and to build habits of citing evidence into all aspects of our educational system (starting at kindergarten)!

Another problem is data cannot be found or integrated (this to my view is something that the academic community should be tackling, not out-sourcing, which is the way I see this going…)

An understanding needs to evolve that science is a collective endeavour.

Anita is now covering scientific software (‘scientific software sucks’ is the quote attributed to Ben Goldacre yesterday) — it compares unfavourably to Amazon … not sure how true this is?

Anita is very dismissive of scientific software not being adequate — often code is written for a particular purpose. (My view is that this is not something that can easily be commercially outsourced — High energy physics anyone?)

Mark Hahnel, FigShare

(FigShare was built as a way for Mark to curate/publish his own research.)

Mark opens with policies from different funders (at Cambridge we are feeling the effect of these already) for data mandates — especially EPSRC: all digital outputs from funded research now must be made available.

Mark talks around the Open Academic Tidal Wave — sorry not a great link but the only one I can find (thanks Lou Woodley): and we are at level 4 of this.

Mark surveyed publishers about what they see the future of publishing in 2020 — and they replied ‘Version control on papers, data incorporated within the article’, but the technology is there already — and uses the example of F1000 Research.


Mike Brady: It’s as well Imelda Marcos was not a scientist — following on from Anita’s claims that software for buying shoes is more fit for purpose than scientific software!

Herman Hauser: willing to fund things that help with an ‘evidence engine’ to avoid repeats of the MMR fiasco!

David Coloquhan: science is not the same as buying shoes! Refreshingly cynical.

Wendy Hall stresses the importance of linking information — every publisher should have a semantically linked website (and on the science of buying shoes).

Comment from the floor: Getting more data into repositories may not be exciting but is essential. Mark agrees — once the data is there you can do things with it, such as building apps to extract what you need.

Richard Sever (Cold Harbour Press) with a great quote: “The best way to store genomic data is in DNA.”

Mike Taylor: when we discuss how data is associated with papers we must ensure that this is ‘open’, this includes the APIs, to avoid repeating the ‘walled garden of silos’ in which we find ourselves now.

Question of electronic access in the future (Dave Garner) — how do we future-proof science? Very valid — we can’t access material from 1980s floppy disks!

Anita: data is entwined with software and we need to preserve these executable components. Issues returning to citation and data citations and incentives again which has been a pervasive theme over the last couple of days.

Cameron Neylon: we need to move to a situation where we can publish data itself, and this can be an incremental process, not the current binary ‘publish or not publish’ situation (which of course comes back to incentives).

In summary, Mark questions timescales, and Anita wonders how the Royal Society can bring these topics to the world?

Time for lunch, and now over to Matthew Dovey to continue this afternoon (alongside Steven Hall another of my former colleagues)!


2 Responses to “Live-blog: the Future of Scholarly Scientific Communication: Part 2, day 2”

  1. anitawaard Says:

    Regarding your comment re my being ‘dismissive’ of scientific software – ‘desperate’ is perhaps a better word? My point is/was that there are tremendous advances made in commercial software, in particular in targeting sales, that are not transferred to science or medicine – the (mostly government-funded) databases that deliver content to scientists are way behind the state of the art at this point. I hope publishers can help here, but this was not meant to be a sales pitch – certainly at this point the software publishers are created is not up to standard either. I hope we can get there together.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hi, Anita, welcome to the blog. Sorry for the misrepresentation here. I’m sure you’ll appreciate that it’s hard to capture the nuances of all those talks at the speed of typing — especially at that point, when you suddenly made three or four very quotable observations!

    But whatever the exact flavour of your complaint, I am very much in agreement with it. Almost every scholarly software package and website feels clunky and 1990s-ish by comparison with its equivalent in other fields.

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