Scholarly Communications for Today and Tomorrow

I sincerely thank George @gsiemens for tweeting about the post in Science in the Open by Cameron Neylon posing the question ‘What would scholarly communications look like if we invented it today?’. For me in his second paragraph Cameron captures for me the essence of open scientific communication for today’s academic world:

If we imagine what the specification for building a scholarly communications system would look like there are some fairly obvious things we would want it to enable. Registration of ideas, data or other outputs for the purpose of assigning credit and priority to the right people is high on everyone’s list. While researchers tend not to think too much about it, those concerned with the long term availability of research outputs would also place archival and safekeeping high on the list as well. I don’t imagine it will come as any surprise that I would rate the ability to re-use, replicate, and re-purpose outputs very highly as well. And, although I won’t cover it in this post, an effective scholarly communications system for the 21st century would need to enable and support public and stakeholder engagement. Finally this specification document would need to emphasise that the system will support discovery and filtering tools so that users can find the content they are looking for in a huge and diverse volume of available material.

We don’t have all of this today. In summary we need:

  1. registration for credit and priority
  2. archive and creation
  3. re-use, replication and repurposing
  4. public and stakeholder engagement
  5. discovery and filtering

The journals and conferences of today with their plethora of web sites provide antiquated and heterogeneous, ie inefficient, methods to accomplish 1, 2 and 5. Some of the material is open access and open copyright but by no means all. This means that 3 and 4 are difficult or impossible. What’s worse they are not recognised for career development and progression.

Cameron looks to future solutions:

So in short, publish fragments, comprehensively and rapidly. Weave those into a wider web of research communication, and from time to time put in the larger effort required to tell a more comprehensive story. This requires tools that are hard to build, standards that are hard to agree, and cultural change that at times seems like spitting into a hurricane.

He proposes using the web addressing and storage technology for all research objects and fragments, the semantic web for linking and the much, much harder step of a standards framework for research objects. We just need the will to start this process. This much is certain, the senior research managers of our higher ed institutions driven by national and international research policies won’t be the ones to initiate this process. It is up to the younger researchers and those towards the end of their research careers like myself to step up.

Keep up the inspiration, Cameron.

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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