It’s that time of year again, just 4 weeks until the SSP Annual Meeting! The meeting always proves to be a productive gathering whether in sessions or in the hallways, catching up with colleagues from around the industry. So we thought it was only fitting to ask the Chefs:
What will be the hottest topics at the SSP Annual Meeting?
Kent Anderson: I think one hot topic will be the activity of the Gates Foundation with its new F1000 OA journal announcement and funding of ResearchGate (Editor’s Note: as one of our commenters noted, the investment in ResearchGate is from Bill Gates, not his eponymous foundation) and what this well-funded and even contradictory activity portends for editors, publishers, and researchers. I also think new access control technologies will be a hot topics (e.g., RA21 and the like). Finally, I think the US government’s role in science funding and support of science-based policies will be a hot topic, especially in Massachusetts, which was recently ranked as the second “greenest” (most environmentally-friendly) state in the US, while also being a hotbed of higher education, biomedical research, and technology startups.
Joe Esposito: If this year’s SSP is true to form, the most common topic will be travel arrangements and accommodations. No one should ever miss an opportunity to bash United Airlines.
But if I could choose what the conversation would be, I would ask that we all spend time thinking about augmented reality and virtual reality and what they will mean for scholarly communications. That’s the next big platform, the step after mobile. It’s time to be thinking about this now.
Todd Carpenter: There are usually two threads of conversation that take place during the SSP annual meeting, which sometimes overlap and sometimes not. There are the topics on the program and which are deftly organized by the program committee. The other threads of conversation are taking place in the hallways, during the receptions, and in one-on-one conversations. My sense is that the program is a fine barometer of important issues and trends in our community.
My sense is that one of the hottest topics isn’t obviously covered on the agenda will be the policy issues and tumult that is buffeting Washington. Here I am not prognosticating about the tweet de jour from Trump, nor the most recent legislative battle, which might be fun to discuss or joke about the latest Saturday Night Live rendition of those things. I’m thinking specifically of the ramifications of these changes on scholarly communications. Of course, SSP isn’t a political organization, nor a lobbying body, but it is one gathering where people discuss important trends impacting our community. Participants would be foolhardy not to be considering deeply the impacts of the transitions, both announced, discussed and potentially impacting scholarly communications.
For a long time, the scholarly community, and by extension scholarly publishing and libraries, have benefited from the consistent and generous governmental funding streams that support research of all types. This has flowed through a variety of federal agencies, such as NIH, NSF, DOE, the Defense departments, the IMLS, and many many others. A greater percentage of higher education in the United States is supported by state and federal government funding streams than is covered by student’s tuition payments. In recent years, the state funding has decreased, while federal spending has increased, however that trend is likely to be reversed at the federal level and isn’t likely to be buttressed by state spending. In addition federal student loan subsidies are also likely to be cut.
According to a Pew Study in 2015 Federal spending on higher education totaled a bit more than $75 billion, more than the state contributions, which have shrunk in recent years. Given the proposed cuts in the budget put forward by the White House earlier this year, even presuming they are not fully enacted, it should be anticipated that this administration and Congress will cut back significantly in the areas of research, higher education, student financial aid, and specifically overhead payments to universities. Overall, Moody’s Investor Services projected that universities would be significantly strained were the budget to pass. Even in the best case scenario, higher education and the industries that rely on it will be tested financially in the years to come. This situation is compounded by the increasing price pressures that will be driven by the inability of students to continue to support the growing costs of higher education through student loan debt.
Combined, the financial strains are likely to lead to cuts in scholarly communications investments, either through the library or in other investments. A focus on impact, efficiency, and cost savings is likely to permeate our community. Will this lead to more open access, more subscription cuts, fewer faculty, more MOOCs, or just less research taking place? Who can say, but we should be considering how we will react in those scenarios. Last week’s March for Science is one tangible result of these pressures, at least from the political perspective. The driving forces behind these issues will impact our community long after the march has faded and well past the annual meeting next month. I expect that estimating the impacts and strategizing how to deal with the fallout will be the focus of many of the side conversations, even if the topic isn’t raised during one of the sessions.
David Smith: I think this is probably a hall/bar/restaurant conversation; I’m interested to find out what we all think of the moves made by organizations such as The Welcome Trust or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the Zuckerberg Chan initiative to put some fairly serious looking money into the scholarly dissemination and discovery business. Is this one of those periodic things that happens or is it a harbinger of larger changes that will play out further over the next few years? The last time there was a big investment from outside was probably the creation and initial funding of PLOS, back in the day. That changed a business model or two over the years that followed. Will this be the same?
The Welcome Trust or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the Zuckerberg Chan initiative to put some fairly serious looking money into the scholarly dissemination and discovery business. Is this one of those periodic things that happens or is it a harbinger of larger changes that will play out further over the next few years?
Lettie Conrad: Whether you gravitate toward strategic or practical talks on SSP Annual program, I would bet that artificial intelligence and “smart machines” will be a common theme throughout. Even if you avoid sessions on the Technology, Industry Challenges, or Product Strategy tracks, I predict we will be unable to avoid discussing the impacts and opportunities of computer-human teamwork in our community. I expect Meta to be a hot topic of conversation, for example. Machine learning algorithms applied to scholarly content and related metrics are accelerating the pace of innovations made possible by cloud computing and semantic technologies — opening new pathways of both risk and progress in the publishing life-cycle, from how we conduct and vet new research, publish and disseminate its results, and discover new scientific content.
Rick Anderson: Given that one of the most startling and widely-discussed schol-comm events of the past year was the sudden disappearance of Jeffrey Beall’s (in)famous list of “potential, possible, or probably predatory scholarly open-access publishers,” I’m anticipating that one of the hottest topics at our annual meeting will Cabell’s announcement and introduction of their much-anticipated blacklist. If managed well, Cabell’s list should be able to replace Beall’s list and provide the same service in a more rigorous and transparent way – and if it succeeds at doing so, the impact could be tremendous. There seems to be growing awareness of the problem of scam publishing and broadening acknowledgment of its real-world impacts, so the time is ripe for the arrival of this service. One burning question that I anticipate will be on everyone’s lips: how much will it cost?
Alice Meadows: One of the (many!) things I enjoy about the SSP annual conference is that there really is something for everyone – whatever your role, function, or level. This year’s meeting is no exception, and there are at least two topics that cut across a range of sessions and that will, I think/hope, spark a lot of discussion among all attendees. The first is somewhat theoretical — that perennial, thorny, and somewhat existential topic, the future of scholarly publishing. A sample of what’s on offer (some that unfortunately clash with each other) include sessions on issues like the future of university presses, how to tell a convincing story about the value of scholarly publishing, and whether (and if so, how) publishers can really compete effectively with the likes of Google and Sci-Hub. At the other end of the spectrum, as someone who likes to focus on solutions, I’m always drawn to the more practical sessions on how we can do what we do better. This year the sessions on standards, access and identity management, best practices, knowledge integration, and richer metadata — to name but a few — should get us all talking about what we should be focusing our efforts on and why. Of course, there are always going to be hot topics that aren’t specifically addressed in the agenda and, if I were a betting woman, I would put money on the current political situation in the US and Europe being one of the hottest of the hot!
David Crotty: I expect RA21 (Resource Access in the 21st Century) to be a big topic of discussion. Hopefully by now, every stakeholder in the scholarly communication community recognizes the deficiencies of our current authentication and access systems. RA21 is an effort to bring scholarly publishing up to speed with the rest of the internet, and to move off of outdated technologies for authentication. Even this early in its conception, RA21 is already seeing some objections raised by the library community, likely because it is not clear exactly what it is, or what the outcomes will be. Clearly more open discussion and dissemination of information (and calls for participation) are needed. Right now RA21 reminds me a lot of CHORUS in its infancy. Like RA21, CHORUS was a good faith effort by the publishing community to create useful resources to solve a problem. But many immediately assumed it was some sort of nefarious plot by publishers to do harm. The skepticism is perhaps deserved, but hopefully by now CHORUS has proven itself as a benign and useful program offering tools to help drive compliance with funder policies. Hopefully RA21 can avoid some of these early stumbling blocks by increased transparency and openness to active participation by stakeholders across the community. Because SSP is home to such a diverse group of members, I’m hoping this will be a good place to foster discussion.
Ann Michael: Although the program is always outstanding, I go to the annual meeting for the people. I’m sure that we’ll all spend time catching up with those we don’t get to see very often. Sometimes the most interesting and innovative developments don’t make it on to the program for a year or so, but folks will be talking about them!
From the program perspective, I am very interested in hearing what Jeffrey Mervis has to say and I have already tagged several sessions that I want to attend. I’m interested to hear (after the meeting) what folks think about the vendor sponsored sessions introduced this year. This may be new to SSP, but vendor sessions have been around for quite some time and they can be very informative and have practical value.
We’ll follow up this post with a post-meeting question about what we observed. Of course, we all hope to see you there!
Now it’s your turn!
What do you think will be the hottest topics at the SSP Annual Meeting this year (on or OFF the program!)?