Transforming Research Communication

By Ashling, Jim | Information Today, May 2007 | Go to article overview

Transforming Research Communication


Ashling, Jim, Information Today


ALPSP International Scholarly Communications Conference

For the past 22 years, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) has held the International Learned Journals Seminar every spring. This year, ALPSP changed the name of this annual event to the ALPSP International Scholarly Communications Conference, recognizing the transition of scholarly communication with a wide spectrum of options. The traditional scholarly journal is increasingly being seen as just one among many formal and informal methods now available to researchers.

Some information industry conferences appear to be navel-gazing affairs where publishers preach to other publishers without input from the real users. Librarians may get an occasional voice, but researchers, authors, and readers, who are rarely involved, are assumed to be happy with what they have used for more than 100 years. But this conference changed the playing field. Researchers occupied most of the speaking slots, followed by presenters who provided examples of new communication forms. Old-school publishing finally had an opportunity at the end of the conference to discuss whether a role still exists for them. After all, scientists created the peer-reviewed journal and all of its processes. So if they want to replace the system with something new, they have every right. As David Green of Taylor & Francis Group noted in the panel session, "It isn't the publisher's job to tell scientists how to organize the research process but to provide the information tools that scientists require."

The Brave New World

The keynote address by Microsoft's Lee Dirks set the scene for a brave new world of open data repositories, open access (OA) online journals, living documents, social tagging, research blogging, and publishing by wiki. At Microsoft, Dirks manages programs for open access to-and preservation of-research data, so it is no surprise that he sees OAbecoming the norm. His comments that data must be preserved and made available for reanalysis and new research questions were echoed by other speakers throughout the day. Among other repeated concerns were the associated problems of variable data formats, quality, provenance, and security of data.

Dirks quoted the "2007 Horizon Report" from The New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE, which reported that trends toward digital scholarship and growing interdisciplinary and collaborative working are moving away from the standards of traditional peer-reviewed paper publishing. Certainly, if academic review and faculty rewards are increasingly out of sync with new forms of scholarship, one of the main driving factors that forces researchers to publish in journals could be threatened.

Stepping back from a vision of the future, the conference examined how researchers currently spend their time and what tools they would like to see developed. Examples were provided from chemistry, clinical medicine, archaeology, and social science. These varied fields illustrated some common concerns and a few differences across disciplines.

Evelyn Jabri reviewed the results of an American Chemical Society (ACS) survey of researchers highlighting the growing time pressures on all researchers. With grant applications taking up to 50 percent of a scientist's time, time management and streamlining tools are essential. The days of reading complete articles and browsing print issues are long gone. Scientists are using electronic tables of contents, listening to podcasts while picking up their kids from school, and using trusted repositories such as PubMed or simply going to Google for information.

John Hurst, who is a self-proclaimed "jobbing doctor," sees himself as a typical clinician/researcher who spends 50 percent of his time teaching at University College London and 50 percent working for the National Health Service. Hurst illustrated his working day effectively using an example of one of his patients. …

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