2022 in review: Key developments shaping scholarly publishing
The year 2022 was marked by the resumption of life as we knew it before the pandemic. People are back on the roads and in the air! Lab work, field work, and in-person conferences are in full swing.
Meanwhile, much has happened in science and technology. The year began with the James Webb Space Telescope reaching its destination; the first images were relayed back in July. Artemis I, bearing the Orion spacecraft, took flight in November. The United Nations Climate Change Conference COP27 concluded with a landmark agreement to provide “loss and damage” funding for vulnerable countries that are most impacted by climate disasters. The Nobel prizes in the sciences acknowledged pioneering work in quantum information science, click chemistry, and human evolutionary genomics. Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing continued to make huge strides.
In an encouraging trend, policies in some countries are increasingly focusing on improving innovation, sustainability, and better access to research. Scholarly publishing events—Peer Review Week 2022 and Open Access Week 2022—led to important conversations and a wealth of resources.
As 2022 draws to a close, it’s time to get a flavor of the main developments influencing scholarly writing and publishing this year.
The use of AI in scholarly communications
AI-driven tools have made inroads into publishing and are set to get well entrenched in writing and publishing workflows. This trend is likely to continue in the coming years, as AI technology continues to advance and become more accessible. While Generative Pre-Trained Transformer version 3 (GPT-3) has been around since 2020, there has been a frenzied buzz around the latest development: ChatGPT.1 GPT is a pattern-recognition AI that “learns” from Internet text to generate responses to queries. ChatGPT can function as a sort of a “collaborator” one can “discuss” ideas with. Further, it has the ability to follow instructions and generate text on any topic. While such tools can be used to help make headway when a writer just feels “stuck,” others can “understand” discipline-specific context, identify complex writing errors, and suggest improvements.
The future of scholarly writing is likely to involve a greater reliance on AI technology, but this should be carefully balanced with human oversight and judgment.
Trends in Open Access and transformative agreements
The Open Science movement is becoming more firmly established, and news of journals switching to Green, Gold, or other Open Access (OA) models is becoming increasingly commonplace. In April 2022, UNESCO shared a strategy to implement its landmark Recommendation on Open Science.2The recommendation is in line with Plan S, which aims to speed up the move to a scholarly publishing system permitting immediate and free online access to academic publications. For this “move,” the “Transformative Journal” model is one of the strategies to help subscription publishers transition to full and immediate OA. As of June 2022, 16 publishers, large and small, encompassing upwards of 2,000 journals, have signed up3.
In cognizance of Plan S and the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, countries and funders are increasingly strengthening OA initiatives. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a new policy guidance to make research articles (and the data underpinning their findings) of federally funded research in the US immediately available and free to access for everyone4. In the UK, meanwhile, since 1 April, 2022, research funded by UK’s national funding agency, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will need to follow UKRI’s OA policy5.
With all these changes, it is inevitable that the coming years will offer clearer pathways for publishers to make Open Science mainstream.
Signing of the CHIPS and Science Act
To build its domestic innovation, expertise, and manufacturing of semiconductors, the US signed into law the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act of 2022 (CHIPS and Science Act) this year.6 The law aims to boost research and the commercialization of innovative technologies, such as AI, clean energy, nanotechnology, and quantum computing. Quantum computing is particularly noteworthy. In an exciting development this year, scientists used a quantum computer to simulate a wormhole. Nations are also racing to create the first quantum computer, which will be so revolutionary, it could replace silicon microchips!7
Acts like the CHIPS and Science Act serve to increase the impetus to research and research outputs, positioning nations in the lead for cutting-edge discoveries and inventions.
Developments in research integrity
The academic publishing industry is fraught with dubious practices that threaten the integrity of the literature. Some of these practices include plagiarism, image manipulation, , and predatory and journals. It is heartening to see the efforts of committed research integrity sleuths who relentlessly track down such practices in published papers and seek the retraction of flawed papers. Among them are Anna Abalkina, who has been working tirelessly to unearth paper mills and hijacked journals, and Elisabeth Bik, who specializes in detecting image manipulation in publications. Bik was recently asked to comment on images during an investigation on suspected manipulations in crucial Alzheimer’s disease research.8 The revelations of the full investigation shake the foundations of currently accepted theories around the disease. Bik worries that the image manipulation problem could only get worse with AI-generated fake images. Moreover, having been at the receiving end of constant threats from researchers she has called out, she highlights the need to safeguard integrity sleuths from lawsuits and bullying by perpetrators of fraud.
Given the current status of research integrity, it was only seemly that the theme of Peer Review Week this year was “Research Integrity: Creating and supporting trust in research.” The event included various activities and generated a host of valuable resources, including blog posts, webinars, podcasts, and live AMAs.
Innovations in publishing models
Subscription-based, print journals are no longer tenable in the era of the Internet and the OA environment. Alongside these changes, peer review models also need to evolve from traditional, rigid formats. There have been some encouraging developments in peer review models of late. eLife, which pioneered post-publication peer review to replace the traditional model of “review, then publish” with a “publish, then review,” created quite a stir with its latest announcement. From January 2023, eLife will do away with accept/reject decisions after peer review. Every preprint sent for peer review will be published on the eLife website as a “Reviewed Preprint,” together with assessments, public reviews, and author responses. This change has been considered revolutionary by some, while it has also raised concerns about the possibility of low-quality work making its way into scientific literature.
If anything, such refreshing experiments that break away from the lockstep will spur more ideas around revolutionizing peer review.
Social media trends
Social media remains instrumental in driving change in difficult times, rallying support, and increasing awareness on the latest in research and academia. Social media can contribute to the increased visibility of scientific publications. Researchers dissect papers in Twitter “threads,” generating interesting discussions between researchers and even lay readers. However, the recent change in the ownership of Twitter left many users—including academics—wondering whether to move away or stay on Twitter. Some researchers have moved to or are considering moving to Mastodon, a decentralized microblogging platform. In fact, a large number of Mastodon users at present might be academics.9 Unlike 280-character tweets, Mastodon allows “toots” of up to 11,000 characters. However, Mastodon is not without limitations (e.g., there is no resharing-with-a-comment option on Mastodon). The best advice for researchers would be to maximize the use of various available social media platforms rather than deleting their Twitter accounts.
Ringing in 2023
The major trends of the past year will be key in shaping the academic publication milieu. All stakeholders in academia and publishing are increasingly orienting themselves to speed up discovery, facilitate Open Science, and increase access to publications. The years ahead will see research as more open than ever before, and more openness is great news for championing and upholding research integrity!
1. Stokel-Walker, C. (2022). AI bot ChatGPT writes smart essays — should professors worry? Nature. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-04397-7
2. UNESCO (2022). Implementation of the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. UNESCO. https://www.unesco.org/en/natural-sciences/open-science/implementation.
3. cOAlition S. (2022). Transformative Journals: analysis of Year 1 (2021). cOAlition S Blog. https://www.coalition-s.org/blog/transformative-journals-analysis-of-year-1-2021/
4. cOAlition S. (2022) cOAlition S welcomes the updated Open Access policy guidance from the White House Office of Science Technology and Policy. cOAlition S Blog. https://www.coalition-s.org/coalition-s-welcomes-the-updated-open-access-policy-guidance-from-the-white-house-office-of-science-technology-and-policy/
5. UK Research and Innovation. (2022). Open access policy update: December 2022. UK Research and Innovation. https://www.ukri.org/news/open-access-policy-update-december-2022/
6. Ulz, J. (2022). The CHIPS and Science Act: Implications on the US research landscape and a look at the opportunities it will open up for research societies and publishers. Impact Science Blog. https://www.impact.science/blog/the-chips-and-science-act-implications-on-the-us-research-landscape-and-a-look-at-the-opportunities-it-will-open-up-for-research-societies-and-publishers/
7. Witt, S. (2022). The world-changing race to develop the quantum computer. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/12/19/the-world-changing-race-to-develop-the-quantum-computer?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=tny&utm_mailing=TNY_Magazine_Daily_121222&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_medium=email&bxid=60d5d440058d0f31851396ce&cndid=65504329&hasha=02c021890e93a92e8f4d1605bb9cc378&hashb=d2320a29fc4725c3383775a0f6902557fc344663&hashc=ea73f47c6867ea0323152a3d5b912060730440a131fc76b79a0142b1a6dc1ad5&esrc=&utm_term=TNY_Daily
8. Bik, E. (2022). Science has a nasty photoshopping problem. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/10/29/opinion/science-fraud-image-manipulation-photoshop.html
9. Stokel-Walker, C. (2022). Should I join Mastodon? A scientists’ guide to Twitter’s rival. Nature. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-03668-7
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