Friday, 25 April 2014

Breakout Group A: ‘Disruptions in a complex ecology: the future of scholarly communications’

Presenter: Michael Jubb (Research Information Network)
Blogger: David Walters (King’s College London)

Michael gave us a very interesting overview of the purposes of scholarly communications and how changes to the infrastructure are steering change, new ideas and new forms of expression.

Purposes of scholarly communication

Michael gave a useful summary of the purposes of scholarly communications, who’s needs have been served within a research/publishing framework for centuries. In short, the purpose is to generate and share ideas and increase the impact of piece of research. Michael used the apt phrase of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’.

  • Register research findings, timeliness, and attributable persons
  • Review and certify findings before publication
  • Disseminate new knowledge
  • Preserve a record of findings for long term efficiency and effectiveness of research
  • Reward researchers for their work


Purposes of scholarly communication

It's not just about communication, there are a number of other things that make research dissemination important. Metrics and impact are additional factors. A number of different purposes are fulfilled by research communications systems. Other considerations:

  • Discoverable
  • Accessible
  • Assessable
  • Usable

Michael explained that research, particularly in the sciences, should be seen as an open enterprise. It needs to be communicated in as way that is intelligible and accessible, so that people can understand what has been discovered.

Research needs to be open to quality assessment, not just assertion, based on the evidence submitted. It should be usable, this ties into the impact.

Mechanisms for scholarly communication

Michael discussed some of the different mechanisms that research is communicated and took science as an example. Other disciplines have a wide range of different methods of communication.

  • Orally: lectures, seminars, conference presentations, teleconferences
  • Written; theses, working papers, pre=prints, books, journal articles, wiki's, blogs, emails
  • Public vs restricted audiences 
  • Peer-reviewed or not

Michael highlighted a distinction between the mechanism and the degree of quality assurance.

Players and stakeholders and their interests


  • Interested in career development and advancement
  • Interested in discovering the work of others in their fields.

University's - who employ the researchers

  • Interested in building the reputation of their institution
  • Interested in raising funds through the reputation of the research published.


  • Interested in the research they fund being accessible to the research community
  • The research councils have a mission statement. They want their research to make an impact on the world at large, in order to make a positive difference in society.
  • They have an interest in the efficiency of scholarly communications – they don't want it to be too expensive.


  • Content, access and discovery for researchers and students in their institutions. This is in support of research and teaching/learning.


  • Reputation
  • Generate revenue
  • Impact in wider society
  • Maximise dissemination

Learned societies

  • Interested in the relationship between publishers and their research community.

Michael pointed out that these groups do not always share exactly the same interest. There are clear streams of funding that flow between these groups. For example, from the library subscription budget to publisher. Therefore it is not surprising that there are tensions in the ecosystem.

The research landscape: Funders and Do-ers

Michael discussed who does research and how it is funded. He described this landscape in terms of ‘funders and do-ers’. There are many different kinds of funders; governments and charity's to name a couple.
He referred to a study by Elsevier which illustrates the global research landscape. This study showed that companies and business are by far the biggest funders of research and account for around 2/3rds of activity. The next biggest funder of research is universities and after this is government.

Thinking back to the ecosystem in terms of communication. The funding groups who are most interested in communication are those funded by governments, charities and universities. Business does not have a big interest in this – they are keen to protect ownership of their research and subsequent in-house innovation. Most research conducted through business is closed. A very high proportion will never be seen publicly, i.e. be published in journals.

There are international differences. In Japan, research funding is overwhelming dominated by business. In the UK, a much larger proportion is funded by the government. The UK is an outlier when compared with how research is funded globally.


Michael demonstrated that research is increasingly becoming a collaborative enterprise. The proportion of articles with authors from more than one country is growing.

The UK and Germany show that 50% of articles came from international collaboration. In the US, this is much lower. In China, it is only 15%

Comparatively in the UK, the proportion of articles with just a single author is around 15%

This shows that there are different international players with different interests, which adds to the complexity of the ecology.

Research data

Michael described the issue of Research data as of vital importance as the landscape undergoes a transformation.

Without the constraints of a journal, research can be instantly accessible across millions of data points. What is required is a coherent infrastructure to join up these points along with the rhetoric argument of research findings and to find an effective means of presentation. This is a challenge with research data growing exponentially. Visualisation techniques and analytical tools are required to utilise this data.

This also throws up a whole set of issues around whether research can be replicable.

Quality assurance and peer review

Michael outlined who is responsible for quality assurance.


  • Editors and editorial board
  • Publishers’  editorial staff
  • Reviewers


  • Single blind – the author doesn't know the reviewe,r but reviewer knows the author. This is common in sciences. It’s argued that it is too difficult to achieve double blind due to the volume of papers produced, the idenifiable writing style of authors and highly specialised subjects.
  • Double blind - neither knows who the other is. This is common in the humanities.

There are ongoing issues with this system. Authors complain of bias, delays, inefficiencies, data, replication and overload. It is also difficult to find people willing to do the job – reviewers often work for free – and this slows down the process. It also can be difficult to assess the quality of the research data.
Another issue is that sometimes journals make judgments on the significance of a paper, and this affects the publication schedule.

There are a series of experimentation's going on around peer review. For example the PLOS peer review system, which is based simply on the soundness of the science.

Other systems are exploring the idea of cascaded peer review results, within a publishers’ portfolio and between different publishers.

There are moves toward completely open peer review, with ongoing interaction between the author and reviewers.

Michael commented that post publication peer review is becoming more important the pre publication peer review. Very often publisher platforms allow for comments and reviews alongside the published article.

Open Access

Michael commented that, in reality, open access is more complicated than green and gold. These terminologies can lead to confusion in terms of how open a paper really is, particularly in terms of re-use.

  • Fully OA - paid/unpaid
  • Hybrid
  • Delayed free access
  • Repository preprint
  • Repository accepted

This is a complicated landscape. Global repository take up is underused in the UK. It’s estimated that only around 9% of articles are available in a repository.



Michael finished with some key questions surrounding the future of scholarly communication

  • How do you sustain the current ecology flows with innovation and sustainability?
  • Do journals have a future?

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