Greetings from Frankfurt, where I find myself attending, for the 49th time, the greatest book show on Earth, despite claiming for 25 years that my days here are done. Yesterday I moderated the STM Association’s Futurist Panel, where three brilliant men (Phil Jones of Digital science, John Connolly of Nature and Richard Padley of Semantico) spoke brilliantly about the Future of Science Publishing, In order to get us all in the mood for change, I introduced them by quoting the Outsell market report for Science information and scholarly communication for the year 2027. Yes, I said 2027 (not difficult if you are a real Worlock!). And here it is:

Outsell Annual Report 2027

“The clear market leaders, IBM Watson Science and Gates Science Services announced their intention to secure the complete commoditisation of content in a new accord to be signed in 2028. Brad Biscotti, Gates Chairman, announced in his annual statement that they felt that content-based competition was no longer appropriate. “By creating and maintaining a huge central database of scholarly communication between us, we can best serve science by competing vigorously in supporting the research process with intelligent software tools. Our two companies have created a self publishing marketplace – now it is time to move on to increase the value derived from research funding. We shall be changing our name to Gates Smart Research as we roll out our first generation of virtual laboratories.”

His opposite number at Watson Science, CEO Jed Gimlet, issued a matching statement: “This long decade of buying publishers and building self-publishing draws to an end as any research team anywhere has available to it online services and solutions for concluding and publishing research articles and evidential data within days, or at least a week, of project completion. Our tried and tested post- publication peer review systems give an accurate guide to good science, and continue to re-rate research over time. We have maintained some of our strong brands, like Nature, Science and Cell, so that republication there could add additional rating value. But
our duty to science is to ensure that everything is in one searchable place and subject to cross searching by any scholar using his own data mining protocols. In making this move we recognise that the production of research findings is now so vast in terms of numbers or articles and available data that creating content silos creates risk from non discovery of prior research.”

Outsell comment on these statements: “There is some special pleading here, of course, since the decline of library budgets in the last ten years meant that article downloads have rapidly declined, while rising volumes of self-published papers create problems for researchers who fundamentally have ceased to read new research. IBM’s intelligent science module, Repeatabilty, used in over 80% of laboratories, needs far more data than an article typically contains, leading to calls to reassess the usefulness, format and content of articles. And when a Repeatability process succeeds or fails, it automatically creates a new citation, enriching the metadata attached to the database and requiring a mandatory notice to all previous users. IBM think this is a cost they should share with Gates.

Gates in turn would point out that almost no one reads articles now. Almost all enquiry is robotic, governed by research protocols mandated by funders and implemented at project inception and regularly during the research process. This may lead researchers to check some findings, though many of the enquiries are satisfied at a metadata level. Their major program, Gates Guru, uses this type of intelligent machine reading to provide a metrics-based rating system for scholarship and institutions. Guru, following Gates landmark deal with the Chinese Government in 2025, is the universally accepted standard and there is no university or researcher
who does not subscribe to it at some level.”

(DISCLAIMER – this is a work of imagination, not of Outsell, and they should not be blamed for my heresies)

Unusually for such events, we had a good 45 minutes of discussion. Many intriguing and interesting points were raised. There were fewer than usual change – deniers, though a few arguments were tinged with the “say I can go on doing it like this for a few more years – please” frame of mind that consultants to this sector are very used to encountering. It almost seemed for a moment as if we as an industry accept that real change is afoot – and we are several phases in already.

Until I got a beer in my hand, and a smiling, intelligent, successful publisher said quietly “that deal you mentioned between Wellcome and F1000 – you don’t think that will succeed do you? I mean, they will never make money!” And all of a sudden the best part of a decade had flashed past and I was back in that same room at the same time room interviewing Harold Varmus, co-founder of PLoS, in front of the same crowd. He told them about the launch of PLoS1; they said megajournals would never succeed. I rest my case!

This is not the age of Trump and it is not the age of Brexit. No one will remember the narrow minded bigotry associated with the US presidential candidate referred to this week by Bruce Springsteen as “a moron”, or the mass suicide attempt of the British people in their own descent into intolerance and isolationalism, if democracies act with the wisdom with which we credit them. As an optimist I believe that we will remember this period as one typified by Jemma Redmond, who died aged 38 in August but whose obituary reached the Guardian last week.

Let me make one thing clear at the start. I did not know Jemma. I came across her company, Ourobotics ( when doing research in advances in 3D printing 18 months ago. I had heard her give a talk ( full of modesty about the advances she had made, full of justified hope for its future impact. I read an interview with her when she was asked what she would like to have printed for herself. Her response – a uterus – was clearly an in joke that I did not understand, though I do now. What I remember was an unaffected personality from the modest Dublin suburb of Tallaght, child of a construction worker and an office worker, who developed a compulsion to solve a problem, gathered the educational qualifications to do it, won a Google Europe funding award, built a start-up inside a Cork-based accelerator in biotechnology and had five patents pending on her accomplishments so far. And then she sadly, suddenly, died.

All of which brings us to the problem she chose to solve. She spoke about the disparity between the huge increase in the number of organs needed for transplant and the modest increase in the number of donors. She identified the issues surrounding the fact that research labs capable of growing human tissue and building the blueprints in software for replicating organs from them were not located close to the hospitals and surgeons capable of using them. So she dedicated herself to the biotechnology of 3D printing using “human ink” – keeping cells alive so that they could be transported and rebuilt into new pieces of human tissue. She believed that growing organs was a less likely solution than transplanting sections of tissue that would result in organic growth. She built a ten jet printer that could store and use human cells, and she demonstrated that her $176,00 prototype could be produced and sold for $12500, within the price range of the world’s 60,000 hospitals.

And she was not just a clever person who got lucky. Listen to her account of lugging her heavy prototype around America to get finance and support. She carefully places the printer on a table in order to demonstrate it, but the table tips as she does so and the machine falls to the floor. So she edges it aside with her foot, while continuing to engage her audience with her presentation. In other words, she walked where all of us have walked who sought, as entrepreneurs, to engage or persuade or cajole support or finance. And she did not do this in Silicon Valley, but in Cork, demonstrating that in Ireland, as in many other parts of the modern world, dreams of the digital future can come alive in a networked society. When the time came, she did not shrink from putting her ideas into a company and leading it as CEO. No doubt our fast moving world will catch up quickly with Jemma’s innovations, though the strong team she leaves at Ourobotics will surely stay very competitive.

Jemma’s ability to drive learning into business development and pitch at goals that stretch the range of human aspiration should be what we mean when we talk about the spirit of our age. I do not know how or why she died so suddenly and that is not the point of this piece. But I do know from the press coverage why the wry comment about printing a uterus got reported. Jemma it appears was born Intersex. In our world, which struggles to increase diversity, reduce gender barriers and allow each of us the full range of opportunity to match our skills and ambitions, this fact, set against her achievements, should alone mark her out of one of the special people who should stand for these troubled but ever hopeful times.