The next era of scholarly publication

Stack of Copy Paper

(wikipedia commons)

As a scientist, I’m of course used to reading articles in scientific journals. It’s the primary form of communicating research results to the scientific community and to the public, and has been – pretty much unchanged – for the last several hundred years.
But with the emergence of the internet and social network platforms this is all changing. Nowadays a lot of discussion happens over Twitter, in comments of blog posts, etc. Which is not a bad thing at all and in my opinion adds to the multidimensionality and accessibility of research results.
Some people are even suggesting that the traditional publication format, i.e. peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, will soon be completely substituted by other forms of (online) publishing that are “curated” and ranked by sophisticated filters, similar to those Google uses to rank the significance of websites. Thus creating an almost evolutionary selection and validation process for scientific results and reports.
And excellent article I read about this was published in the latest issues of Nature:
Scholarship: Beyond the paper
by Jason Priem
Nature 495, 437–440 (28 March 2013) doi:10.1038/495437a
Published online 27 March 2013

I’m excited about the opportunities of newly emerging alternatives to the traditional publication process, which is far from perfect. It’s a tedious process and involves an often ridiculous amount of time you have to spend to deal with things like formatting and conforming to the journal’s specifications. Let alone the lag time it takes between
submission of a manuscript and getting an answer if it’s going to be published or what needs to be changed. And it heavily relies on the time and effort of other scientists to evaluate and critisise the work, all of which unpaid.

However, dissemination brings with it diversification, and while this is mostly a positive thing, it adds to the responsibility of an individual to critically evaluate the content. For a peer-reviewed paper in a somewhat respectable journal you can be quite sure that it has gone through several steps of examination by experts, thus adding a big portion of reliability that you don’t immediately have in more unreviewed formats like blog posts or pre-print repositories. Alternative metrics (altmetrics) are a big factor in this reliability, as high  volume of traffic, downloads and online discussion (through Twitter, etc.) can be a proxy
to gauge the influence and importance of research results. How these altmetrics can and will be tweaked when alternative publication formats will gain ground will be a question of careful and sophisticated algorithms that filter out spammers, bought “likes” and fake retweets.


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