The digital agenda for scholarly publishing

Marydee Ojala joins other 'battle scarred veterans' of scholarly publishing at the 2016 Academic Publishing Europe (APE) conference in Germany.

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Changes in the Journal Article

Keynote speaker Barend Mons, Leiden University Medical Center, expressed his displeasure with some aspects of modern journal articles, although he didn’t advocate jettisoning them, merely reversing the order—publish data as the article and the narrative, with tables and figures, as supplementary material. The European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) relies on the FAIR guiding principles of Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable. Open science moves research from individual brilliant minds to social machines. The future, he thinks, is an internet of data, which is the opposite model from open access.

Picking up on new approaches to journal articles, Stuart Taylor of London’s Royal Society, foresaw a more unstructured approach, perhaps in wiki format. He raised other issues, such as whether peer review is fit for purpose and how much damage is caused by "publish or perish." He also decried the influence of lobbyists over real science.

Even more intriguing was John Sack’s musings on scholarly publishing. Sack, founding director of HighWire Press, identified information retrieval as an outdated concept. Machine learning will enable a future of artificial intelligence, where machines read articles for humans (since there’s more being published than humans can actually read) and virtual reality dominates the research experience. Phillippe Terheggen, Elsevier Journals, speculated that the rise of machines will introduce a visualisation of relationships among articles, offering tools that couldn’t have existed before.

Todd Toler, John Wiley and Sons, who considers digital to be the second wave of publishing, described some of the attributes of digital as lower cost, flexible, semantically linked, with multiple outputs and annotated by referees. Scientists are becoming hackers, proponents of the maker culture. They align philosophically with open source software and open web communities. Toler looks forward to the day when authoring tools will replace Word. Text mining, from his publisher perspective, "is smartening up articles we have dumbed down."

Open Access

No discussion of academic publishing can avoid mentioning open access. Although the other "opens" are important, it's open access and its corollary, open data, that intrigues publishers who struggle with new business models to accommodate a rapidly changing scholarly communication environment. The question of what entity funds the publishing of scientific research, as well as who funds the research itself does not have a final answer.

Open access has gone from a fringe idea to mainstream. Newer to scholarly publishing is the notion of the sharing economy. Scholarly Collaboration Networks (SCNs) move publishing away from traditional communication modes. Richard Padley, chairman and CEO, Semantico, led a panel discussion on the topic, asking whether collaboration adds or subtracts value. One view was that, although traditional publishers such as Elsevier managed the transition to internet publishing very well, they "missed a trick" when it came to the social aspects of the internet. The popularity of sharing via ResearchGate and challenges copyrights held by publishers.

The sharing economy was not the only concern of APE delegates. Under discussion was a shift from journal title representing impact to journal article fulfilling that role. Beyond the article is the reputation of individual authors. David Nicholas, CIBER Research Ltd, deemed reputation via SCN ratings "a scholarly academic game" and bemoaned the lack of recognition for teaching, which is considered personal, as opposed to research, which counts for reputation.

The APE conference speakers concentrated on scholarly publishing in the sciences. If that was the remit, they delivered. Scholarly publishing is not, however, restricted to science. Hot topics for scholarly communication in the social sciences and the humanities revolve around text and data mining, which have the potential to disrupt publishing and to create new knowledge from old information. Innovation is not limited to the sciences. We heard little of this in Berlin this year and I hope to hear more next year. I'd also like to hear more from librarian customers of scholarly publishers. APE 17 will be back in the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities on 17-18 January 2017.

Marydee Ojala ( is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher and co-chair of the Internet Librarian International conference.

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