Future of Scientific Publishing

Scientific journal publishing has played a pivotal role in communicating science among science researchers and educational institutions. It is one of the ways in which a scientist’s hard work is validated and published. While some journals are open access, majority are subscription-based journals. Open access journals encourage readership from scientists in low income countries where subscription costs hold them back. Having said that the cost of publication must still be covered, this discourages the authors to go completely open access. Moreover, academic societies that have relied on subscription charges to fund their activities do not have another obvious way to generate revenue to replace subscriptions. Whichever model of funding emerges, it must deal with the issue that managing peer review and curating articles for publication requires time, effort and money.

According to Michael Eisen, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley- The publishers evaluate their commercial interests and dictate what kind of scientific discipline becomes well-funded and popular. He is a vocal supporter of open-access publishing, which aims at making research more widely available at little to no cost. The current system gives a handful of these publishers a disproportionate power to shape the way that science is done.

In today’s interconnected world, access should mean much more than just availability to read, it also means the ability to link, mine and otherwise reuse research content through open licensing practices. In the coming years scientific journal publishing is going to change, one of the changes would be more open access to journals. The classical publications and data services for scientific data would co-exist in a way that their contents are interlinked so that researchers can benefit from both. Data services like Dryad, Figshare are examples of such companies. Soon, each publication service will have both well curated content and in-depth data.

A group of leading journals and scientific societies took an initiative to adopt a joint data archiving policy (JDAP) for their publications, considering this thought, Dryad was created. This provides a general-purpose home for a wide diversity of data types. This makes research data discoverable, freely reusable, and citable. It was understood that easy-to-use, not-for-profit, community-governed data infrastructure was needed to support such a policy. The data is openly available, integrated with the scholarly literature, and is routinely re-used to create knowledge. Figshare is a repository where users can make all their research outputs available in a citable, shareable, and discoverable manner. Any research output, from posters and presentations to datasets and code, can be disseminated in a way that the current scholarly public shing model does not allow. With the onset of this global pandemic it is even more important to share data, curate it which further boosts and enhances the reproducibility of the data.

Its value has never been pulled more sharply into focus as you can see the real-life impact of data sharing as we navigate this pandemic. After five years of collaboration on an annual survey of researchers, we can see increasing positive attitudes and behaviors when it comes to data sharing.

Journals charge subscription and publication fees to meet article processing, management and other costs. The universities used to receive generous government funding and the relationship between research and publishing was mutually beneficial. However, reductions in research funding have left academic institutions unable to afford increasing publications costs. Online publishing is one way in which the publications have kept themselves profitable. Online publications are more accessible than traditionally published articles. This has paved the way for open science and the open access movement.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen how fast the open science publishing is being done. Researchers working on the pandemic are sharing preliminary results on preprint servers and institutional websites at unprecedented rates. This is very similar to what physicists and mathematicians have practiced for decades. The journals have accommodated manuscripts in record time and the peer review process has been very swift. Publishers and journals like Elsevier, Springer Nature and the New England Journal of Medicine, have made coronavirus research old or new free to read. They have pledged to continue doing so for the duration of the outbreak and have encouraged researchers in some instances to post their manuscripts on preprint servers.

After analyzing the positives of open access journals, many people are of the notion that traditional publication practices still have a part to play. The publishing approach of traditional publication process offers better editorial quality, which may include copy editing, or writing additional content. They employ a full-time editorial team, whereas editors of open access journals are usually scientists themselves. Traditional journals are also more selective and reject more papers, on average, than open access journals. This explains the higher cost to publish in these journals; the more rejected papers, the higher each paper will cost to publish. The advantage to this approach is prestige. A publication in Nature, which accepted only 8% of submitted articles in 2011, will grab more attention than one published in a less prestigious journal. This kind of selection adds significant value that should not be eliminated completely.

Academic publishing is ready for a major change. Although technological innovations allow for a wider and cheaper dissemination of research results, commercial publishers keep increasing prices at alarming rates. Institutional pressure is arising from two fronts. Knowledge producers, the researchers who submit and use articles, are frustrated by copyrights and paywalls hindering diffusion. Research funders are upset at having to pay for both production and usage when commercial publishers rake in billions in profit.

The leadership taken by the funding agencies will work only if it dwells into all major areas of the scholarly communication ecosystem. Given the possibility of changing the criteria used to evaluate research, collaborating with the researchers, the universities, and the research centres should prove straightforward. Working with various strands of the public should include imagining and creating communication channels allowing for a real voice to influence research priorities and orientations. With publishers, cooperation is also needed, although there are likely to be further challenges to existing business models. In hindsight it is hoped that all areas will be viewed with the perspective of moving into truly innovative areas as very much in line with the most fundamental purpose of scholarly communication.










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