The future of scholarly communications: the 'social machine'?

Speaking at UKSG, David De Roure surveys the rapidly evolving scholarly communication ecosystem.

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Comparing an academic journal published in 1665 with one published today, one might conclude that very little has changed in scholarly communication in the intervening 350 years. This was the somewhat mischievous suggestion of David de Roure, Professor of e-Research at the University of Oxford and Director of the Oxford e-Research Centre, speaking at last week’s UKSG conference.

Is the academic paper approach still fit for purpose? asks De Roure; and at the same time, why has it worked so well for 350 years? His conclusion: we must be doing something right, but dramatic and pervasive changes in scholarship are reshaping the landscape in profound ways.

De Roure began by examining the current shifts in scholarship, taking as his jumping off point the energy created by big data, big computing, the information society, and social media, all of which interact in a number of ways to drive the development of, among other things, e-infrastructure and ‘science 2.0’. As this complex and fluid ecosystem develops, the question, according to De Roure, is “how do we build a new knowledge infrastructure to support scholarship?”

The ‘data deluge’ is a significant factor in play. There are well documented examples of changes in methodology associated with starting with data, rather than starting with a hypothesis and then moving on to data collection to support it. It seems clear that these new tools in the scientific toolbox are enabling a move towards more data-centric science. A more extreme argument (though one which De Roure pointed out that he did not agree with) might be that the data deluge makes the scientific method obsolete.

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