Talk to a researcher or librarian nowadays and they’re likely to tell you, “Scholarly communication has been revolutionized in the past five years.” (Whether they like it or not is another question entirely.) What does that mean exactly? How has scholarly communication changed?
Quite simply, scholarly communication has gotten greater: that is, it’s seeing greater openness, diversity, and engagement.
And while these “revolutions” in scholarly communication are by definition at odds with the status quo, the long term benefits of these changes are apparent. Let’s take a closer look.
Illustration CC-BY-SA OpenSourceWay
Increasingly, authors are choosing to publish their articles in Open Access journals, as well as in traditional journals that offer an Open Access publication option (also known as ‘hybrid OA’ publishing). One author survey even found that, in a single year, the number of researchers who published their work Open Access nearly doubled!
Journals are making the move to OA, as well. More and more traditional, “toll access” publications are experimenting with hybrid OA options, allowing authors to pay a fee to make their article open access in journals that would otherwise require a subscription in order to read. And 254 new titles were added to the Directory of Open Access Journals in the first quarter of 2015 alone. This move is, in part, due to a number of funding agencies recently enacting “public access” mandates in the United States, UK, and elsewhere in the world.
Contrary to popular belief, the push for Open Access isn’t only happening in the sciences, either. With the recent launch of the Open Library of the Humanities, the humanities–usually stereotyped as a field that’s resistant to OA–has seen increased support for OA publication models that are better suited to meet humanists’ needs than is the popular “author pays” model prevalent in the sciences.
In academia in general, there’s also been a push towards “openness” at all stages of the research lifecycle. Humanists and scientists alike are making their data, software, lab notebooks and research notes, posters, and conference talks openly available. And these open research outputs are appearing on platforms as diverse as data journals, social networks for open source software aficionados like GitHub, blogs and websites, IRs, and repositories like Figshare.
The advantages to increased this newfound openness are many: research done in the Ivory Tower is becoming more transparent to the public, it’s more quickly getting to the researchers and patients who need it, and it’s easier to correct the scientific record. It’s also making academia more diverse in some ways.
Another sea change in scholarship comes in the form of diversity: namely, the increased diversity of research outputs (in particular, software and data) that are recognized as important as (and distinct from) journal articles and books. We’ve also seen calls to recognize the diverse “flavors of impact” that research can have, beyond what’s traditionally thought of as meaningful (lots of citations for work published in high impact journals or books published with prestigious university presses).
Research software has seen a boost in importance from the “code as research object” project, which allows programmers to archive their open source software on sites like Zenodo and Figshare, which then issue a DOI for the code (thereby making it possible for other scholars to more easily cite it). And research data has seen many similar initiatives (including DataCite, RDA’s work on data citation, and PLOS’s work on altmetrics for data).
But citations are not the only way to understand the influence of a piece of research software or data (nor of articles or books, for that matter). Other indicators, including views and downloads, installation statistics, adaptations (as measured by GitHub forks), discussions on research blogs, or number of collaborators can shine a light on how often a research object is read, remixed, or otherwise built upon to fuel discoveries beyond those for which it was originally created.
These indicators, called altmetrics, are also useful in that they’re much quicker to accumulate than citations. When considered alongside citations as complementary indicators of influence, impact, and attention, altmetrics can provide a much fuller view of the usefulness of a scholar’s work than citations alone can.
By helping researchers get the credit they deserve for making their work Open Access and Open Source, each of the initiatives described above is a step towards a scholarly ecosystem that values the work of all researchers, not just those who’ve gotten authorship credit on a paper.
Note: Diversity in terms of scholars’ genders and ethnicities has thankfully increased, too, but that’s outside of the scope of today’s post. If you’d like to learn more, I recommend:
- “5 Numbers That Explain Why STEM Diversity Matters to All of Us” (Wired.com)
- The consciousness-raising work of Danielle N. Lee (blog, Twitter), Katie Mack (Twitter), and Jonathan Eisen (blog)
Illustration CC-BY mkhmarketing
Engagement is another important area in which scholarship has changed recently, particularly in the areas of engagement with members of the public and with other scholars, including those from other disciplines.
Researchers and their universities are increasingly looking to social media for opportunities for one-on-one engagement with members of the public, whether to broaden the public’s understanding of complex science or to share research with the community.
Scholars are also turning to social media daily to engage with each other. Nearly 50% of respondents to a recent Nature survey said they use Twitter to follow discussions related to research, and sites like Academia.edu and ResearchGate are popular venues to share one’s papers with peers. Recent studies even found that the number of scholars active on Twitter has risen from 1 in 40 in 2011 to nearly 1 in 3 in 2014.
With the increase in scholars using social media, as well as the increase of scholarship that’s been made openly available online, we’re now about to better track discussions of research on the Web. At Altmetric, we’re now tracking online discussions surrounding over 4 million diverse scholarly outputs. In fact, in the last month alone we counted 745,295 mentions of 175,295 research outputs!
Using tools like the Altmetric bookmarklet and, at a university level, Altmetric for Institutions, scholars are better able to find public engagement opportunities, measure the effects of their efforts, and document those engagements and broader impacts when applying for grants or going up for tenure.
Increased engagement has very real benefits here in the US and abroad. In the United States, any opportunity that researchers can use to better educate the public, lawmakers, and other stakeholders might help to also avoid catastrophes like “shrimp on treadmills” debate (wherein members of Congress lambasted the NSF due to their support of “frivolous” science). And in the United Kingdom and other countries, public engagement is just one aspect of “impact” that’s considered when doling out funding to universities.
What might the next five years look like?
While it’s difficult to make exact predictions about the future of scholarly communication, I do believe academia will continue to change for the better in many ways:
- Better understanding: We’ll start to see more nuanced conversations about what “impact” really means, as well as an increased acceptance of more varied flavors of impact. As part of this, universities and funders will increasingly recognize metrics beyond citations, including altmetrics, some of which can showcase the “broader impacts” of research;
- Better dissemination: Publishers will continue to experiment with new ways to make research consumable online, building on important work like eLife’s Lens and PeerJ’s PaperNow;
- Better bottom lines for OA publications: Publishers, societies, and libraries will also invent and test new Open Access financial models like F1000 Research’s length-based article processing charge fees and Open Library of the Humanities’ “collaboration, not competition” funding model, moving academia away from the idea of “one size fits all” OA publishing; and
- Better recognition: The many varied scholarly contributions of individuals will finally be recognized by the powers that be, whether it’s related to data curation, designing protocols, or scholarly service activities (which creates discrete important but currently undervalued outputs like peer reviews, blog posts, and so on). Perhaps we’ll even be more nuanced in our recognitions, seeing those activities as merely different from (not lesser than) traditionally valued scholarly activities. (Hey, a lady can dream! 🙂 )
What are some of your predictions for how scholarship will change in the next five years? Leave them in the comments below!