“When the Spin slips, change the name!” as British Spin Meister, Alistair Campbell, almost said but didn’t until I put the words into his ever-open mouth. When I look back over the past 15 years of science publishing, I see more spin and less change than I would ever have believed possible. Yet when I try to look forward 10 years I see a wave of fundamental change more threatening than the games we have been playing in these Open spaces. For me, a good proof of the failure of the almost political campaigning around Open Access to carry the day beyond some 12-15% of users (check the latest Outsell market report, Professor Harnad) is the name switch game – with PLoS now talking “Open Evaluation” and Academia.edu being used by 5 million scientists who believe in Open Science. The fundamental change is about self-publishing and post-publication peer review: this will upset the applecart of commercial publishing, if it does not adjust in time, and the ersatz Fundamentalists of the Open Access movement of a decade ago, who wanted to preserve peer review as much as they wanted to destroy commercial ownership and restriction.

Since we are talking Science, lets try an experiment. Take any other broken, mis-used and meaningless hackneyed term and place it in this context where “Open” is now in terms of Science and Access. For example, take “Socialist”. Or “Community”. Or even “Public”. See what I mean? All meaningless, or, like those eye tests, you see the same through each lens that the optometrist puts into the frame before your eye, and end up lying about the difference between this one and that – because there is no discernible difference but you do not want to disappoint. Real change is not to be described by this means. It concerns the wish of young scientists to be noticed in the network as soon as possible on completion of their work – and before that where conferences, posters, blogs and other mentions begin to build anticipation. Real scholarly communication is now available in several different flavours, from Mendeley to Academia.edu. Since I have been solemnly assured for 30 years by senior scientists and publishers alike that scientists will not share I have to be amazed by the size of these activities. These newcomers are not less worried about attaining research grants or tenure than their predecessors, but they live in a networked scientific world where if you are not quickly present in the network you are not referenced in debate – and being part of the argument is becoming as critical to getting grants and tenure as a solid succession of unread papers published two years after the research ended used to be.

These convictions are much strengthened by this week’s announcements. The announcement from F1000Research (December 12) that their articles are now visible in PubMed and PubMed Central gives a complete clue to what this is all about. Users want to publish in five days, but they want to be visible everywhere where a researcher/peer would expect to look. And increasingly they will expect that the article will collect into post-publication peer review all those earlier references in conference proceedings, blogs and elsewhere. So while people like F1000Reaeach will handle “formal” post-publication peer review, informal debate and commentary will not be lost. And the metrics of usage and impact will not be lost either, as we look so much more widely than traditional article impact to discern what this author/team/ findings/ideas have had. “Open Evaluation” from PLoS aims just there, as it recently launched its second evaluation phase from PLoSLabs (http://www.ploslabs.org/openevaluation/). This post-publication article rating system reminds me very precisely that PLoS One was not in any sense a traditional peer review process. It was a simple methodological check for scientific adequacy (“well-performed” science), and while the volume of processing solved a multitude of financial issues, the fuller rating of these articles still rests with the user. We shall see PLoS One as the turning point to self-publishing when the history is written.

And so we move towards a world where original publication of science articles is no longer the prerogative of the journal publisher. While review systems will flourish and abstracting and indexing will remain vital, that tangled mass the second and third tier journals, the most profitable end of traditional STM, will slowly begin to disperse. Some databases will adopt journal brands, of course, and the great brands will survive as ratings systems themselves. “Selected by Cell as one of the 50 most influential research articles of the year”, or “Endorsed by Nature as a key contribution to science” will be enviable re-publishing, increasingly with datalinks, improved access to image and video and other advantages. This is where semantic enrichment and data analysis will first become important – before it becomes the norm. But these selections will be made from what is published, not what is submitted for publication. And a clue to what the future offers was indicated by a Knovel (Elsevier) announcement this week. Six publishers with either small, high quality holdings in engineering research, or activities in engineering that can use the Knovel platform, entered into collaboration agreements to make their content available via the Knovel portal. Amongst these were Taylor and Francis (CRC Press), as well as specialists like ICE (Institute of Civil Engineers) or the American Geosciences Institute. As novel is in a directly competitive position with IHS GlobalSpec, it is relevant to ask how many engineering research portals that marketspace will need. It now has two – and I seriously doubt that there will ever be more than two aimed at both research and process workflow, though their identities may change (see Thomson-Reuters/Bloomberg/Lexis in law). Increasingly then small science publishing will be re-intermediated – and we do not need a business degree to imagine what that will do to their margins, as well as their direct contact with their users. “Open”, whatever else it means, connotes “contraction” for some people.


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  1. check out the post right here on February 9, 2014 22:00

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    David Worlock | Developing digital strategies for the information marketplace | Supporting the migration of information providers and content players into the networked services world of the future….