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Is scholarly communications ready for innovation?

Satyajit Rout | Dec 15, 2017 | 1,626 views
Is scholarly communications ready for innovation?

When talking about the state of innovation in the scholarly communications industry, it is pertinent to mention that the researcher life cycle continues to be bookended by sameness. The motivation for doing research and the reward for efforts remain the same but there's a whole lot more now on offer when it comes to the manner of going about doing things. Sample these few examples:

1. The lack of public engagement in science

There are web services to communicate complex science to both core and wider audiences through a variety of content formats and styles. Yet the importance of communicating the value of your academic work is undermined by research assessment metrics that largely continue to be the same: journal impact factor or number of papers published. Scientific, technical, medical, and engineering (STEM) research offers a variety of outcomes in society. Yet its wider impact is not taken into account adequately enough or systemically enough, forcing scientific work and scientists to exist in a bubble and limiting public engagement with science.      

2. The need for upgrade in publisher workflows

There are new tools and systems to facilitate research reproducibility and transparency in author contributions. Yet publisher workflows are not fully ready to assimilate submission and sharing of raw data, experimental design, protocols, etc.

3. The low uptake of researcher identifier 

There's a persistent digital identifier meant to disambiguate and assert researcher identity. Yet the adoption of it in geographies where author names need disambiguation the most has been slow and not all scholarly publishers have been able to make ORCID mandatory.

4. The lack of adequate resources

There are online marketplaces offering laboratory support so that scientists are not limited by the resources/infrastructure (un)available to them at their own lab. Yet grant proposals are deemed fit/unfit for funding on, among other things, the basis of availability of resources. 

Why is the pace of change in scholarly communications slow?

This may read as a litany of complaints but it is not—well, maybe a little bit. The broader point to be made is that innovation can be given a clean bill of health. There is a steady stream of newness coming our way in no small measure by ex-scientists (Overleaf, Publons) who having had to grapple with pesky problems in their day have taken it on themselves to find and propagate solutions for the same.

The issue to me is adoption. In scholarly communications, why is change so often incremental and so seldom on the scale of an epidemic? What does this modest pace of adoption mean for the next wave of innovation? Will it simply weed out the innovations that cannot create value at the scale required or will it in fact stem the generation of new ideas? And from this list of awesome things for academics that did not exist 10 years ago, how many have you used? 

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