When I first talked about open access and the decline of the scientific journal, 20 years ago, it was fortunate that I had Dirk Haank available to tell the world not to listen to demented consultants with no skin in the game. When I spoke some 15 years ago, about the inevitable declined of the subscription science Journal, it was pleasing to hear Kent Anderson reassuring us, all that I was simply a mad dog out on license. Now, as I read the strategy revision for their open access policy published by the Gates Foundation, on April 7, I am very happy to indulge the Panglossian philosophers of the scholarly communications marketplace once again and while I wait for them to tell us that nothing has really changed and everything will go on  just as before in the best of all journal, publishing worlds, I am heading down to the marketplace to link arms with Cassandra. We shall chant “ O woe! O woe ! The day of the open access, journal is nearly over, and it’s end can be told with confidence!“

Of course, this might take another 15 years. I’ve reached an age myself when time is not a very worrying factor. In the 57 years that have passed since I started work in the educational and academic publishing sector I have been acutely, aware that commercial publishers, while being politely prepared to entertain speculation about the future, have necessarily to attend to  this year’s financial results and the expectations of investors. When my speculations were deemed too far-fetched, my clients in the boardroom tended to say “our strategies are clear – follow the money!” Today, my response to them would be quick, and immediate:“Watch what the funders are doing with the money, and then, follow the data! “

Many will argue that Gates is a small funder in terms of article contributions. It’s work creates around 4000 articles a year, and through its payment of APCs it contributes a mere $6 million per annum  to the coffers of scholarly publishers . But it is an influential player and in its revised open access strategy it may have detected something which is present in the minds of the larger funders, and eventually of governments themselves. What is the duty of the funder in terms of ensuring that articles detailing research results are available to the community at large? In the time of Henry Oldenberg in the 1660s, the answer would have been to get them into the Transactions of the Royal Society. Today, it is to get them onto an authorised pre-print server with a CC-BY license as soon as possible after the research is completed and the article is ready, and to accompany it by linked datasets of the evidential material on a similar license on a similarly approved site. Speed is of the essence, access to all is key and critical. Subsequent reuse of the material in a journal, subsequent acts of peer review and downstream reuse are not the key concerns of the funding foundation. By this fresh twist in the end of its open access policy, the Gates Foundation have saved $6 million, which can now go back into the research fund . And by using F1000 , who already supply the internal Gates, publishing systems, to create F1000 Verixiv, the pre-print server of choice, they have provided tools, which researchers can use (or not) to fulfil the mandate.

If other funders follow this route, then the scholarly communications research community in science faces a choice. For many, more pressurised by getting the next research program underway than anything else, it will be simple to leave things there, and not necessarily press forward to eventual journal publication. For others, given the needs of institutions for publication, to secure tenure or satisfy other funders requirements, publication will remain essential until the way in which science results are assessed, begins to change.One of the things that I recall from conversations with Eugene Garfield, in the 1980s , was his repeated assertion that better ways than citation indexing would be found to assess the worth of science research articles. Like Winston Churchill on democracy, he maintained vigorously that what he had created was the “best worst way“ of doing the job. The challenge now, I would suggest, is whether some latter day Garfield can perform his 1956 breakthrough, and create a way of indexing and illuminating what is good science for a modern world. That measurement and indexation has to be available as soon as possible after the first appearance of the claim, wherever it appears in digital form.In the meanwhile, getting the knowledge immediately into the marketplace, and getting the data available to aide reproduceability supports other research in progress and supports integrity. And that is critical for funders and researcher alike.

Such new systems will emerge in their own time. In the meanwhile the way we measure, achievement, t which have been gamed and manipulated endlessly and need in any case to be renewed or replaced , experienceincreasing pressure,. This applies as much to peer review as anything else. If publishers are to stay in the loop, then they need to change their relationships as wellAs the relationship between Gates, andF1000 shows, whatever takes place in terms of “publication “ and where it takes place in the ecosystem may become more important to the institution or the funder to the researcher or the research lab. In terms of attracting sponsorships, investment, and industrial research cooperation,  universities may have more interest in publication than most, especially if the research community sort out a better way of ranking science than by citation indexng.(Footnote: what a clever man that Vitek Tracz was! The Tesla of science publishing! Long after his retirement, we shall be using the tools he created for white label sponsored publishing! )

So there it is! Cassandra and I have now done a full lap of the forum, and I can feel that the rotten vegetables are getting ready to fly through the air! next time, if I survive, I plan to “follow the data” myself, and look at the role of publishers as data aggregators, data curators, and data traders. and we shall remember the old saying: “how do you know if the searcher is a person or machine? Well, only machines read the full article!“

“Hey, we don’t use those words anymore!” And I wasn’t even paddling around in the minefields of sexual and racial nomenclature, where people of my age step at their peril in daily risk of standing on a verbal IED. My colleague had just used the expression “STM”, and I was hurrying to point out how limited, by domain, discipline and format, that expression now was and how little it contained of where “scholarly communications” now was. He looked grumpy on screen, and about to protest so I used newly acquired meeting management skills, muted him, and addressed the rest of the virtual room. “if we use expressions like STM, we not only ignore HSS, but we also live in the pretend world that says that communications can only be recognised if they are clothed in pre-digital forms like books or monographs or articles in journals. Academic research of all types has always been about much more in communication terms.”

If we look at the workflow of researchers, or indeed of most professionals and many business people, we quickly see, in a digitally networked age, that if the screen is the viewer then a whole mass of communications pass across it in the course of our work. Some of these are trivial in essence, though they may have vital importance in a moment. Others are important long form productions, though it is rare for us to deal with them at length. Thus while it can be important for a researcher to review a scholarly article from end to end, it is more likely to be found in searches that are directed at methodologies, or references and citations, or as a result of a concept search. And bobbing along in this broad bitstream with carefully crafted books and articles are items of less formal content: blogs, reviews, annotations (hypothess.is has now passed 10 million annotations as at 8 May), nuggets of micro-publishing of all types. And thanks to the efforts of the good people at ORCID and CrossRef and millions of individual scholars we can swim in this great river because good, not yet great, metadata exists to interconnect the items. 

But some artefacts of scholarly enquiry have not fared so well. Evidential data is a prime example, though improvements are now taking place in some disciplines in the interconnection of articles to data held in repositories. But researchers do not only write: they also speak, present and debate. For a long time the content derived from this has been inaccessible. Any researcher who dreamt of a search in which one of the results would be a five minute relevant video extract from a conference speech was doomed to frustration. Despite the “when we return to paper post-pandemic” fogies, academics have been including programmable graphs, software, videos and audio in digital articles for many years. It was the conferences that got lost, or isolated and disconnected on the site of a scholarly society. Yet it is clear that in the conference workflow that we find the important early signs of results and early stage success indicators. 

Now two young companies are making determined efforts to close the gap around conferences and bring the posters and all the other content  into searchable view. I have mentioned morressier.com here, but this is what ACS, a recent partner, said: “Morressier was selected as the platform for SciMeetings due to their commitment to developing tools that enable conferences posters, presentations, abstracts, datasets, videos, and supporting files to be widely discoverable”. Moressier has gone through the long slog of building content scale, and can now reasonably expect the market, as we either move out of the pandemic travel restrictions or into a more virtual world of conferences, to flow in their direction. 

All of which makes Underline Science (underline.io) even more interesting. Here is a conference platform built for science conference events. Nine months old, it’s appearance just as many scientific meetings were being cancelled or postponed was fortuitous. It’s early concentration has been upon meetings in AI and robotics, reflecting the research interests of its founder, Alex Lazinica, also co-founder of IntechOpen and himself a former researcher. Those who attended the virtual AAMAS conference in Auckland last week saw citable lectures, presentations and transcripts. The ability to move from language to language adds a necessary but impressive dimension, especially with key languages like Chinese, Hindi, Spanish and English. In a manner reminiscent of Vitek Tracz’s video interviews with great scientists, lectures will be divided into “chapters” (how the ghosts of those old formats linger!”). This will help ensure that elements are discoverable as packets. As it develops more functionality and more polish  this service will turn into a basic way of providing conference searchability in an Open Science world. At the moment holding conferences at all is hard to justify unless you live in New Zealand. But in the development of these two companies it is easy to see parts of the research, alerting and intelligence cycle in scholarly communications that will have moved forward decisively as a result of the pandemic.