Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Disruptions in a complex ecology: the future of scholarly communications

Michael Jubb, Research Information Network

Mike held an excellent breakout session and fit a lot into a relatively short space of time, hence the length of this post!  

What is purpose of scholarly communications?

It isn’t just about communications, it is about many other things and the system has a number of different purposes:

  • Registering research findings, their timing, and persons responsible
  • Reviewing and certifying the findings, making sure the work is not bogus via quality assessment and peer review etc.
  • Disseminating new knowledge.
  • Preserving  record of findings for the long term efficiency and effectiveness of research
  • Rewarding researchers for their work

More recently, the Royal Society  wrote a report, Science as an Open Enterprise in which it reported that research should be communicated in ways to make it
  • accessible
  • intelligible, so people can understand it 
  • assessable, making open to quality assessment by others.  Not just an assertion but the evidence on which it is based
  • usable, as others should be able to use the results of the research

So, if those are the purposes, how is scholarly communication done? 

Answers from the audience included: articles, books and monographs, conferences, posters, websites, blogging and social medial. Broadly, the mechanisms for scholarly communication fall into two camps, oral and written.

Oral – lectures, seminars, conference presentations, teleconference etc
Written – theses, working papers, preprints, books, journal articles, wikis, emails etc.

There are some important distinctions between these different mechanisms.  The degree of openness or closed-ness can depend on the tool used.  Written forms can be open - a blog can be read by anyone who can find it, a book or article can be read by anyone who can buy it – but other forms of communications are more restricted.

The other distinction is the degree of quality assurance associated with the scholarly communication.  Blogs can come about by someone sending their thoughts out into the world, while other forms go through some pre-publishing quality assurance mechanism.

Who are the key players are in this ecosystem, and are their specific interests congruent?

Researchers are interested in career advancement, street cred by publishing good work, discover as readers, disseminate as authors.  As readers they want quick access to best research they can find.

Universities care about reputation building, making money  via attracting research grants and new students.

Funders- care about impact and the outcomes of the research.  They fund research in order to make an impact on the world at large or to be able to monetize date (eg pharmas), so there is a big interest in maximising dissemination and impact of high quality research, with a specific emphasis on efficiency in the scholarly system.

Publishers – are interested in generating revenue, building reputations, attracting authors and maximising dissemination of high quality research.

Learned societies – these share lots of interest with the other stakeholders, but also have their own interests as publishers and /or supporters of researchers.

As can be seen, these stakeholders don’t share exactly the same interests, so it not surprising there are some tensions in the ecology.  Each player needs the others but don’t all sing from the same hymn sheet.

The research landscape: funders and do-ers

A report prepared by Elsevier showed that approximately £27bn was invested in research in the UK in 2011.  The biggest proportion of this came from business enterprise (c 50%), with government next (c30%) and funding from other research charities and overseas funding last (25%).

But who did the research? The biggest sector was business enterprise (c64%), followed by higher education (26%) and with under 10% undertaken by government.

It is important to recognise that the research funded by government and charities that is done in higher education, is open, whereas most of the research and development undertaken in the UK – business enterprise – doesn’t get into the standard kind of scholarly communication mechanisms.  

International differences between funding sources

How research is funded differs widely by country.  In Japan an overwhelming proportion of funding comes from business enterprise, whereas in the UK a much lower proportion of research is funded by business, with a higher proportion being funded by government.  The UK is something of an outlier in terms of how research is funded across major research nations.

In terms of where research is done, Japan sees the majority of research being done in the corporate sector.  The UK shows less corporate research being done, but is far less of an outlier.

Research is an increasingly collaborative enterprise

Over the last few years, the UK and Germany show rises of up to 50% of the number of articles involving researchers from other countries.  This is very different from China, which stands at about 15% at the moment, or the US which has much lower levels of international collaboration in comparison with the UK or Germany.

The number of articles with single authors is also decreasing.  In the UK 15% of articles have single authors and in Germany, only 10%.

So different players have different interests, and now involve international players all with different interests. 

The big challenge is the extent to which research is bound to higher volumes of data compared with 20 years ago.  It might be simple to present findings and data on which it is based within an article, when using a small number of data points; you can’t do the same with 6 million data points. 

How do you present this in prose along with the vast increase in volumes of data and analytical tools used to analyse data (software, tools workflows etc)?  This will be one of the essential challenges over the next 10 years.

Some stats on the scholarly communication ecosystem

Number of scholarly publishers in the world: c 2k
Number of journals: c 28k (10k in WoK, 18k in SCOPUS)
Number of articles published per year: c 2M

An STM report prepared last year by Mark Ware showed the following:

Revenues by geographic territory
·         52% US
·         32% EMEA
·         12% APAC
·         4% other

Revenues by source
·         70+% library subscription
·         16% corporate
·         4% adverts
·         3% memberships
·         4%other

So if you join subscriptions from libraries and corporate libraries, you are looking at over 90% of revenue coming from that source, with relatively small amounts coming from other areas.  A few years ago, memberships would have been a higher proportion, which shows a significant change in the landscape.

Quality assurance and peer review

Many stakeholders are involved in quality assurance: researchers as peer reviewers, Editors and Editorial boards, publishing staff.   Broadly the types of review are:
  • single blind, where the referee knows the identity of the author
  • double blind, where neither side knows who the other is (the norm for humanities)
  • open, when both sides know who each are
There are a number of issues with peer review, including:
  • fairness and bias
  • delays
  • Inefficiency due to repeat submissions and reviews
  • data and reproducibility making it harder for reviewers to assess the work
  • overload – too many articles! Some publishers report difficulties in finding reviewers

Mike also listed some other ways of reviewing work, including:
  • soundness not significance (eg PLOS1)
  • cascade (pass article from one journal to another within a single publisher’s portfolio)
  • portable (pass article from one journal to another, across to a different publisher)
  • open and iterative (done in the open on a journal platform once an article is submitted)
  • post publication peer review (comments and ratings alongside articles)

 Open Access routes (with uptake)

  • fully OA with apc (5.5%, but 9% for UK)
  • fully OA with no apc (4.2%)
  • hybrid (0.5%, but 3-4% for UK)
  • delayed free access journals (1%)
  • repository pre-print (6.4%)
  • repository accepted ms (5%)

Balancing the ecosystem

In the last part of his talk, Mike referred back to the original list of key players, stating that there are many other players in this ecosystem that are important to its maintenance, including: subscription agents and intermediaries, library systems, reference management services, OA infrastructure, Metadata standards, text and data mining etc. 

All these elements are becoming increasingly important – it is a far more complex world. 

The big challenge is how to sustain that world with continuing flow of innovation on one side, and sustaining ecology on the other side.

In closing, Mike asked if articles are not the future of scholarly communications, what is the future for the journal?

1 comment:

  1. I don't think any discussion of "Disruptions in a complex ecology" in the context of scholarly communications is complete without at least a mention of predatory publishers. These are OA publishers that exploit the model just for their own profit, accepting low quality and unscientific papers without completing a proper peer review, just to earn the article processing charges. Predatory publishers are a major concern and something that researchers face daily as they are the constant recipients of unwanted spam emails soliciting manuscript submissions and editorial board "service." Predatory publishers are corrupting scholarly publishing and corrupting open-access. All scholars must be aware of them and avoid becoming their victims.