What do you think will be the future of scientific publishing?
To match this month’s Windback Wednesday series on publishing, Julie Gould speaks to Euan Adie, director at Altmetric, and Alex Hodgson, head of marketing at ReadCube in this podcast about scientific publishing and a digital future.
Technology is changing fast, and it is having an effect on the way you can access, discover and share scientific publications. Euan, Alex and I discuss how we predict these three things will be changing.
Alex Hodgson makes a good point that we can look at the changes in how scientific papers are discovered and read. It used to be all about the printed word – it was easy, flexible and simple to manage. Now things are read online via databases. “If you stop to think about that, I mean, that’s a really big shift from more of a journal focus to more of a specific article focus.” And in order to read these papers, tools have become available that let scientists to “sift through the noise so that you’re not missing an important paper.”
Euan believes we’re not quite there yet though. “This isn’t the end goal, we haven’t reached the end point of digitisation. We’re not making full use of the fact that we’ve moved away from print and more on to the web.”
“The truism is that scientists invented the web but they’re terrible at actually adapting to it and making full use of it. It’s taken us 10 years to get from a publisher website with all PDFs to now the vast majority of publishers having HTML pages for their articles.” It’s the next steps: interaction, updating and linking that will be the game changers.
In the Naturejobs poll – at the time of recording – only 5% of voters preferred reading academic papers on an HTML page, the rest were al for PDFS. Half of the PDF-ers were fans of the printed page. This didn’t surprise Euan, but he suggested looking at publishers that were “born digital,” for example eLife. These publishers have a different feel to those that started out in print. They are still recognisably scholarly publishers, but they take the opportunities that the digital world has to offer. [Side question: it would be interesting to see how many of the digital-only publication readers preferred PDFs to HTML… maybe for another poll.]
Alex agrees that it isn’t surprising. “We’re creatures of habit…. tools like ReadCube are kind of new to the scene. It’s going to take some time to change those old habits.”
Will there be a tipping point where everything will go to online? We compared this to the e-readers that are available, and Euan believes it’s all about giving it a go. “It’s very easy to say I like holding a paperback book in my hand… and what you really need to do is actually have a eBook reader and then see the benefits for yourself.” Although HTML use is increasing, Alex thinks that “there’s always going to be people that want to read PDFs.” But she does agree that it is about accessibility and usability.
But do scientists really want this? If the stats show that scientists prefer to read PDFs… why change? Euan talks about how the digital platforms don’t need to exactly copy from print to digital. Publishers could start using other things. “What we should be aiming at is having research online in digital form. That’s not the same as having a digitising the PDF.”
We finished off by asking: is that the only end goal?
Alex thinks that change springs fear when it comes to sharing information beyond the traditional publishing, and that it will take a lot to get people to come round to new digital ideas. Euan wants people to push the boundaries of what the digital world has to offer. Why not use a video where it is more appropriate? Why does a new piece of scientific software need a paper published with it? Why not live blog like Rosie Redfield and use those blogs as a publication? He also talks about the way scientists get credit changes. If you’re a medical researcher, and your work reaches and help patients, why don’t you get credit for this?
We left it at that, but what do you think?