I am back ! Three months of infections and operations are over and I am again upright on a brand  new knee . Apologies to those who expected a continuous word stream . Even greater apologies to those who were enjoying the silence . 

Lying on my back and staring at the ceiling should have been a moment of zen- inspired rehabilitation . Instead it was punctuated by moments of intense annoyance when I read of people self-styled as “ publishers “.  sallying out to defend the “ book” and the “ article” and the  “ journal”. These things need no defence . Nor does the codex or the Sumerian clay tablet . Scholarship doe not and never has lived by format . Knowledge transmission will always find the appropriate channel , like water round a dam . So eventually I was better , and got up and went to an international publishing day organised by a leading software supplier in three cities simultaneously. But then a representative of an ancient university press got up and used the privilege of a hearing in this gathering to treat us all to a discourse on the advantages and disadvantages of publishing in….books or journals ! 

I had to take a firm grip . All of a sudden I had been robbed of 35 years of my life . But then , as I made my way home , I remembered another strand of my bedridden reading . The growing strength of the pre-registration movement in science research began to dawn on me when I read that PLoS was adopting pre- registration (https://plos.org/open-science/preregistration/). Then I recalled the eminently sensible investment by EBSCO in protocols.io ( https://www.ebsco.com/products/protocols). So here we have a publisher like PLoS recognising that a post-Open reality may be an urge amongst funders and researchers to improve the credibility and reproducibility of scientific findings and results . And the way to ensure that aims and objectives do not distort during process is to preregister the research objectives and do so with a description of the methodologies that will be employed to explore the hypothesis . 

If this catches on it will be important . Either the journal publisher or an independent site like protocols.io can then become the repository of comparative research methodologies . At the moment this material normally appears in the front half of most articles . It is variously treated in metadata terms by different publishers and often inadequately edited ( I am told that “ apply to authors for full details of techniques employed “ is still quite common ) . And the real point for publishers is the time-lag . The preregistration occurs before the research phase , and before any findings or evidential data are available ( a period of years ) . Thus the “article” effectively appears in two parts , at different times. And in different , but linked places? It is very possible , of course to link the preregistration site to the site where the findings are described and to the repository where the evidential data is held , but this does not sound , to me at least , very much like the journal as operated by journal publishers today . 

We have known for a long time of the heavy , intensive search usage by researchers seeking methodological models and templates in order to pursue a specific enquiry . The gradual removal of that activity into specialist service sites could have effects on usage levels generally and thus on library journal buying pressures . And another factor comes into play here as well . Methodological improvement is poorly communicated and seldom recognised. If a researcher , in reproducing an experiment , finds a quicker. easier , cheaper way to the same result , be it by a tiny fix or a larger short cut , this does not normally lead to a new article . Often communication is by hearsay , blog or email , and it is not attached necessarily to the searchable corpus of knowledge . Nor is the researcher who has made the improvement normally recognised . Preregistration is susceptible to annotating the protocols and recognising the source of the suggested improvements . protocols.io has that vision , of an annotated library of experimental methodology with acknowledgement of suggested changes and their source . 

During the 1990s and the early years of this century I took part as an evaluator in several rounds of Article of the Future discussions . Elsevier , to their great credit , were prominent in these . Structural improvements were made , metadata improved , huge flexibility introduced around the use of graphs , and their manipulation by readers , video was used for the first time but constrained by package size , likewise audio and slide presentations. By the end I had begun to feel that “ article” was becoming a much of a size constraint digitally as it has been , for many years , in print . The format words of the print world seemed , back then , to have outgrown their usefulness . Innovation  in end user Performance and expectation were making tradional format terms  redundant . It was just that we were too lazy to find new ones 


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  1. PubTech Radar Scan: Issue 3 – PubTech Radar on March 17, 2020 18:17

    […] Worlock in Why Innovation beats Format every time! comments that “Scholarship doe[s] not and never has lived by format . Knowledge transmission […]