I’m very happy to be joining the Scholarly Kitchen, and thought I’d give a quick recap on who I am, along with a few links to previous posts on academic publishing and new online tools over at my regular blog, Bench Marks.
I’m the Executive Editor of a fairly new biology methods journal, Cold Spring Harbor Protocols, from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. The journal is an attempt to move a 30-plus year scientific manual publishing program out of the print world and into the electronic world. CSHL Press has long been well-known for the high quality laboratory manuals published, but younger students are less likely to seek experimental methods on the lab’s bookshelf, they want to find them online. Hence, the journal was created in mid-2006. CSH Protocols is also serving as a laboratory bench for some experiments in new ways of scientific publishing, detailed here.
Before helping to create and running this journal, I was a Commissioning Editor for our books program, and before that, a research biologist, receiving my PhD in Genetics from Columbia and doing postdoctoral work in neural development at Caltech. My training as a scientist remains deeply ingrained, and I tend to look at publishing ventures and new online tools with the same skeptical eye one would use to review a scientific paper. My journey through the scientific blogosphere was started with great enthusiasm, as it seemed there was a world of exciting new tools out there that were rapidly being taken up by so many. This was followed by a period of great disillusionment, when I realized that most of the scientific conversation happening online was something of a closed loop and that almost every single biologist I spoke with in person told me they don’t read science blogs and they don’t use any of the new online tools. There is a relatively small online community of biologists who are not representative of the average reader of one of our journals. They may be, as they claim, just way ahead of everyone else in using these new tools, or they may be just an odd evolutionary offshoot, a branch of people doing things online because it suits their particular personalities. One has to read carefully, between the incessant hype, utopianism and self-promotion to figure out what’s really going on.
I’ve given a few talks on why these new tools are failing to catch on — here’s an early one given at a publishers meeting, and a later one given to an audience of scientists. The short answer, if you don’t want to read my lengthy posts, is that very few, if any of the new online scholarly tools give benefits that outweigh the costs in time and effort. Web 2.0 is all about huge timesinks, and so far, the tools aren’t justifying the effort they require. Our readers are busy people — I’ve never met a single successful scientist with extra time on his hands. They don’t want to spend huge chunks of their week filtering information or chatting online with strangers. I am at heart a technophile, and I love playing with these new tools, and I’ll let you know when I find useful ones like GoPubMed, and I’ll poke holes in others, like online reference managers.
I’ve found myself becoming more and more of a naysayer, as so few of the newly offered tools live up to the potential of the medium. Given my daily interactions with scientists, I’m convinced that editorial oversight is more important now than ever, and it’s still something for which people are willing to pay. As publishers, we need to be able to see through the hype, and to support and develop tools, business models and delivery systems that have real world value and real beneficial results. And that’s the perspective I hope to bring here. Hmm, a lot of chefs in this kitchen already. I wonder if they could use a bartender…