“All too often, leaders see cultural initiatives as a last resort, except for top-down exhortations to change… But cultural intervention can and should be an early priority—a way to clarify what your company is capable of, even as you refine your strategy.”

So say Jon R. Katzenbach, Ilona Steffen, and Caroline Kronley, writing in the Harvard Business Review.

We are equally guilty of not prioritizing cultural change in scholarly communications. So I was delighted to see that the theme for this year’s FORCE2017 meeting is Changing the Culture – a great opportunity to engage with colleagues from across the scholarly communications community on key questions such as: What needs to change in our culture and why? Who are our stakeholders and how are we going to involve them? What are the most effective ways to change the culture; which approach works best – carrot, stick, or both? How will we measure success?

butterfly transformation

Many of the issues affecting scholarly publishing and the communities we serve can’t be solved without a change of culture. One that is especially close to my heart is diversity, or rather the lack of it, which remains a major challenge for scholarly communications. Bias – conscious or unconscious – is deeply rooted both in our industry and in the communities we serve. Over the past few years a number of posts, in The Scholarly Kitchen and elsewhere, on the lack of women at the top of scholarly publishing, as well as several scholarly studies that clearly demonstrate gender bias in authorship and peer review (see here, here, and here, for example), have helped draw attention to the issue of gender diversity.

Other forms of diversity bias have been less well-documented, but thankfully that is starting to change. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has some great resources, and the other AAUP (American Association of University Presses) is showing leadership in addressing the issue, for example, through the Mellon-funded University Press Diversity Fellowship Program (which fellow chef Roger Schonfeld recently wrote about). Charlotte Roh has some helpful slides (shared at last week’s PKP conference and publicly available here) that clearly demonstrate the extent the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in our industry. And there was a great session on diversity at the SSP conference, which has led a group of us to plan a series of posts on this topic.

Acknowledging there is a problem is the first step to addressing it. “Once we see our own biases at play, we can’t unsee them,” as Executive Director of the Clayman Institute, Lori Mackenzie, puts it in this excellent post on unconscious bias. I believe that more people are indeed ‘seeing’ diversity as an issue that needs to be tackled in scholarly communications. And, with SSP and several other scholarly publishing organizations now collaborating to address diversity issues in our industry, I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to effect some real change.

There are other areas where there is much less agreement about the need for – or desirability of – a change in culture. The work needed in these areas to bring together the right stakeholders, identify common ground, and agree a way forward, is much greater and will require even more leadership, vision, and above all persistence.

Diversity is an area where (hopefully) few would argue against the idea that change is needed, although making that change happen will still take a lot of hard work. There are other areas where there is much less agreement about the need for – or desirability of – a change in culture. The work needed in these areas to bring together the right stakeholders, identify common ground, and agree a way forward, is much greater and will require even more leadership, vision, and above all persistence. Some of the most challenging areas include the move to open science, shifting away from the impact factor as a measure of quality, finding alternatives to the current research funding system, fixing the problems with the tenure and promotion system.

From what I’ve heard about past FORCE meetings, the diversity of attendees (from across the whole “community of thought leaders in scholarly communications”) and formats (a mix of session types, with a strong preference for interactive proposals, as well as an unconference element) will provide a great opportunity to discuss cultural change –  in all its shapes and forms – with colleagues who hold a wide range of opinions on these topics. Certainly many of the right people will be in the room, which is a good first step!

The call for abstracts is open till August 15 – I’m working on mine now, and am looking forward to three days of diverse and open conversations about changing the culture. And hoping that those discussions will actually help achieve that change…

Disclosure: I haven’t attended FORCE before, but I am on the outreach committee for FORCE2017


Alice Meadows

Alice Meadows

I am a Co-Founder of the MoreBrains Cooperative, a scholarly communications consultancy with a focus on open research and research infrastructure. I have many years experience of both scholarly publishing (including at Blackwell Publishing and Wiley) and research infrastructure (at ORCID and, most recently, NISO, where I was Director of Community Engagement). I’m actively involved in the information community, and served as SSP President in 2021-22. I was honored to receive the SSP Distinguished Service Award in 2018, the ALPSP Award for Contribution to Scholarly Publishing in 2016, and the ISMTE Recognition Award in 2013. I’m passionate about improving trust in scholarly communications, and about addressing inequities in our community (and beyond!). Note: The opinions expressed here are my own


8 Thoughts on "Changing the Culture in Scholarly Communications"

DIVERSITY IN INNOVATIVE ABILITY Yes, there is gender bias, but whether “other forms of diversity bias have been less well-documented” is questionable. I suspect there is ample documentation, but it is seldom cited and few pay attention. The most tragic bias is against innovative thinkers, those out on the extreme right of the innovative ability bell-curve. Publishers and funding agencies claim their goal as seeking out the really innovative as well as the more pedestrian advances, but the peer-review system is strongly orientated towards the latter. Fortunately for Einstein, there were a few contemporaries who recognized he was on to something. Several years after Einstein’s seminal paper on special relativity, Max Planck and other distinguished physicists, while embracing relativity, incorrectly cautioned that Einstein “may sometimes have missed the target in his speculations as, for example, his hypothesis of light quanta” (which was recognized much later). The literature is rich with similar anecdotes – a profuse torrent not dismissible as “merely anecdotal.”

The problem seems to be that there are too few “innovative thinkers” but when they emerge as Einstein did they are published. In short, in some 40 years of scholarly publishing I never had a reviewer reject a paper because it was too innovative!

On gender diversity in scholarly publishing, there has been considerable progress in the AAUP (university presses), which got started when Women in Scholarly Publishing (WISP) was founded in 1980. It got so much done that WISP formally disbanded about a decade ago. Here is information I passed on to AAUP’s new (female) president in June:

Over the full course of AAUP history there have been 53 male presidents and 14 female presidents, including you. But there were 23 male presidents before Miriam Brokaw filled out the term of Howard Bowen in 1974/75 and there were 12 more men before Carol Orr was the first president to have a full term in 1987/88. Thereafter there have been 18 men and 12 women. But we are getting close to equity. Since 2000 there have been 10 male and 8 female presidents.

The picture for press directors is not so rosy. I looked at only university presses based in the US and attached to universities (so did not count AAUP members like Brookings, National Academies Press, RAND, etc.), but here is the total of those I counted: 53 male press directors and 35 female directors. There are several interim directors serving now, and most of those are male, so these numbers may shift slightly when the new hires are in place. And I did count PUP [Princeton] as having a female press director. This is not terrible and is, of course, very different from what it was when I began my career in 1967, but perhaps WISP’s work is not completely done after all.

Racial and ethnic diversity remains a much bigger problem, and the Mellon program should help some in that regard.

Thanks for the update on UP directors and AAUP presidents, Sandy. As you say, the gender issue is around the lack of women in leadership positions – 35 women directors of UPs versus 53 men in an industry with a female/male ration of around 60/40 still leaves a lot to be desired. The racial/ethnic diversity issue is that there are simply not enough people of color in scholarly communications, period. Ditto people of disability. So still lots of cultural change needed on all fronts…

Thanks Alice. I really hope that meetings like FORCE and others do bring the right people to the table because to me, it feels like much of the globe is left out. I have the good fortune of having met researchers and editors from Africa and Brazil. They tell me that their needs are not being met by the “global” scholarly communication community. Likewise, my program has seen large increases in papers from the Middle East and from India. It is clear that they are not getting the same kind of training and support as researchers in North America, Europe, China, and Australia.

The “culture” change needs to include a global perspective so that we don’t continue to streamline policies that leave entire communities behind.

I couldn’t agree more, Angela. I attended the PKP conference last week for the first time and was really impressed by the diversity of both attendees and speakers, including great representation from the global south. I should have mentioned in my post that there are a number of travel scholarships available for FORCE2017 to enable those who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend, to be there (see https://www.force2017.org/travel_fellowships.html).

You’re right Angela.We in the Souths ( and I use the plural because there many Souths ) do suffer from a left out syndrome that is not the making of the West.Our Financial situation do not allow us to attend conference where the registration could be equivalent to three months salary !!! We need help to be able to reverse the trend that makes science go from the north to the south. One should also recognize that our leaders do not value knowledge and corruption is prévalent .I attended Force 11 2015 and I met a wonderful group of dedicated persons bent on advancing scholarly communication .

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