Prediction is a strong word. There are so many related threads in the scholarly communications ecosystem that it’s difficult to see what might be knit together or unwound in the coming year. Some trends observed in the past may take giant steps forward, while others falter and either regroup or disappear. But, as long as we don’t obsess, it’s always good to be thinking about what lies ahead. So this month we asked the Chefs:

What are your predictions for scholarly communications in 2018?

road ahead to 2018 concept

Tim Vines: Here are my predictions for 2018. First, there will be another swathe of retractions as yet another ingenious peer review scam is uncovered. In previous years it’s been fake reviewers, maybe in 2018 it’ll be fake editors. Second, following the events in so many other areas, at least one prominent figure in scholarly publishing will face allegations of sexual harassment. Third, people will develop blockchain applications for manuscript authoring, peer review, and publishing. These will probably take several years before they offer an improvement over current systems. On a related topic, publishers will experiment with using cryptocurrencies to pay APCs, either with an existing currency or one specific to academic publishing. Finally, I expect we’ll see a merger between two big publishing companies as part of ongoing attempts to maximize economies of scale and grow their databases.

Lisa Hinchliffe: I’m going to take an atypical approach and predict an opportunity that I think is uniquely before us in 2018. Although it holds great promise, I am not certain we will seize upon it as I would hope. The opportunity is for the scholarly communications community – scholars, publishers, and librarians – to be a counterforce against the Death of Expertise and the resultant destructive policies and practices that are emerging globally.

The increasing breadth and depth of information that is available is stunning – but it has not had the effects some may have believed it would. Damon Zucca observed at the opening of our panel on the future of scholarly reference publishing at the Charleston Conference: “we have gone from a culture in which a few people looked up some things some of the time to a culture in which almost everyone looks up things all of the time.” This is true. But we have also found ourselves confronting the reality that more information does not automatically translate into better information and that it isn’t always the case that good information drives out bad information.

Though technical and economic barriers to scholarly information do remain, and deserve attention, I think it is more pressing to consider how the scholarly communications community provides intellectual access to these materials. When the “publics” for scholarly journals were the scholars themselves, genre conventions facilitated understanding, clarity, and credibility. As the “publics” for scholarly materials expand, these same conventions can create confusion and undermine trust. Intellectual access demands more than open access to publications or layperson abstracts of scholarly texts.

Intellectual access requires open process, framed and explained as developing knowledge, with clear pathways to understanding the epistemologies of different communities of practices and how those varying beliefs and methods are ultimately productive in seeking meaning and truth. Grandiose? Probably. A vision worth working toward? Absolutely.

Intellectual access requires open process, framed and explained as developing knowledge, with clear pathways to understanding the epistemologies of different communities of practices and how those varying beliefs and methods are ultimately productive in seeking meaning and truth.

Kent Anderson: I hope 2018 will see more investment in people than in technology. If 2016 and 2017 showed us anything, it’s the problem set that emerges when technology becomes unmoored from human control. I think we need to absorb the lesson that technology needs human management and oversight, and that abdicating important social, intellectual, economic, or financial aspects of life to machines and algorithms makes us susceptible to all sorts of problems, including some we can’t anticipate or properly detect. Viewed necessarily as human-machine hybrids, technology solutions would look different, work better, and create more jobs. For example, moderation of feeds and recommendations with human editors helping would only improve. I think creating great new technology services informed by smart humans is exactly what we should be doing — after all, that’s pretty much what publishing is at its heart. The technologies have changed, but the need to put smart humans in place to manage distribution, filtration, prioritization, and validation remains key to a healthy knowledge environment. In fact, 2018 may be a year where having it or not makes a critical difference.

Roger Schonfeld: I see Scholarly Communications in 2018 continuing to pivot to the increasingly hot research workflow sector. The major players, Clarivate, Digital Science, and Elsevier, will make more acquisitions, steadily integrate their holdings, and introduce additional forms of lock-in. Other publishers will increasingly recognize a threat to their businesses, though it is not yet clear what strategy they will pursue. One key unanswered question: Will academia take a stronger strategic posture on outsourcing core research infrastructure than it has in the past ?  

Judy Luther: “Prediction” is a strong word given the current environment. However, there are two trends that I expect will continue in 2018 barring a dramatic shift in our world. The first is the consolidation of established technologies, especially platforms supporting workflow that is changing. This has been happening with software that supports libraries (ProQuest buys ExLibris, Elsevier buys SSRN and Bepress), publishers (Wiley buying Atypon) and societies (Abila, Aptify and YourMembership are now under the Community Brands umbrella). As the tech world embraces AI and 3D becomes part of eLearning, space is being cleared for the next round of innovators offering new services. It’s an inflection point in a cycle that plays out again and again that we might recognize if we had the 75,000 foot view.

The second is the growing conviction among a number of librarians that they need to own the platforms they use in order to achieve the stability necessary to enable them to fulfill their role as stewards of content resources.

The second is the growing conviction among a number of librarians that they need to own the platforms they use in order to achieve the stability necessary to enable them to fulfill their role as stewards of content resources. Some of this sentiment is fueled by a commitment to an open research environment that seems more realistic in light of funder mandates, preprint servers and tools such as Unpaywall. However, to be successful, some level of scale is required to fund the ongoing costs of supporting the technological infrastructure. And that requires establishing a network of partners with sufficient governance to reach agreement on a set of requirements. The key to sustainability will be if the library’s goals are aligned with the university’s mission. If, for example, grants were awarded to the university because funders were influenced in part by the researcher’s reputation based on content showcasing their prior work and its impact. A few institutions are developing these types of initiatives and it will be interesting to track their development.  

Joe Esposito: It’s really not much of a mystery what is going to happen in scholarly communications in 2018. Calling it a “prediction” makes it sound bigger than it is. To find out what is going to happen in 2018, all you have to do is look at what people were working on in 2015. It takes three years to make anything happen (five years for a genuinely new development). With a one-year time span, all you can point to are tactical things, mostly having to do with a specific marketing campaign or sales. Three years ago, publishers widely began to invest in data analytics. Some of those services are coming on stream this year.

Three years ago, publishers widely began to invest in data analytics. Some of those services are coming on stream this year.

So, for example, we had ample warning that Mendeley was going to get acquired (though no one knew by whom). The evidence was in the attentive tolerance of Mendeley’s dubious copyright policies. Why not simply sue Mendeley right out of the box? Because a number of publishers were wondering what could be made of the asset. It took a while for Mendeley’s significance to sink in and for numbers to be put to a plan. Hence three years. 

Outside of science fiction and some of the less intelligible aspects of physics (and, I suppose, in psychology), time does indeed march on. My “prediction” for 2018: we will be building 2021.

Ann Michael: Looking at the predications the Chefs have made, a lot could happen (or get started) in 2018. I’m hoping that Open Science takes a large leap forward. As we’ve discussed before on The Kitchen, it’s impossible (and unproductive) to paint all of scholarly communications, or even all of STM, with one broad brush. There are completely different cultures, norms, and practices within research specialties and subspecialties, but there is one thing that is clear. Humans respond to mission alignment and incentives. A shift to Open Science requires a cultural shift at the “producer” level. Mission alone is not enough for large sections of the author community. What else can we do?

I’m also very excited about one of Tim’s predictions:

…people will develop blockchain applications for manuscript authoring, peer review, and publishing. These will probably take several years before they offer an improvement over current systems.

While there is a lot of hype around blockchain, I am convinced that it will be part of our infrastructure at some point. If you are aware of blockchain applications in scholarly communications, please let me know! I’d love to dig into this more and try to be part of the solution.

Now it’s your turn. What are your predictions (or your hopes!) for scholarly communications in 2018?

Ann Michael

Ann Michael

Ann Michael is President of Delta Think, a business and technology consulting and advisory firm focused on innovation and growth in membership organizations, scholarly publishers, and professional information providers. Ann is Past-President of SSP.

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Discussion

10 Thoughts on "Ask The Chefs: What Are Your Predictions For Scholarly Communications in 2018?"

2018 prediction for the scholarly kitchen: even this year there will be no representation of Asian or non-White experts among the Chefs. The West defines what is science, and it defines publishing too. What a wonderful world!

Probably some painful truth in your prediction. It is an area we are aware of and are actively working to improve. We’ve brought in a blogger charged with bringing in more voices from around the globe and particularly from the global south (first instance here: https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/12/12/tackling-diversity-scholarly-communications-part-2/), but would love to go much further than this.

One of the struggles we face is that blogging here requires a level of risk-taking. Publishers are generally averse toward offering public opinions on anything, so there’s a limited number of candidates willing to put themselves out in this manner, and perhaps more important here, in a position where they are able to do so. Those facing bias and difficulties in the industry may be less willing to take these sorts of risks.

But we are always recruiting, certainly for guest posts if a full-time gig is more than one wants to take on, so we encourage all to get in touch. Further, the SSP is actively engaged in diversity projects (https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/11/29/diversity-inclusion-ssp-interview-executive-director-melanie-dolechek/). So if you’re serious about this, please step up and join the efforts.

Lame or not, this has been my experience as editor of this site. I’ve asked countless people to write pieces for us only to be told that a subject is “too hot” or “I don’t want to stick my neck out,” or, “I’d love to, but there’s no way my company would allow me to.” Most publishers look at the grief that Elsevier constantly gets, and many think that they are singled out (despite being only one of several giant commercial publishers with similar profit margins) because of the high profile they maintain (https://twitter.com/mrgunn/status/950773443133362176). As Angela Cochran put it in a post, “‘Flying “under the radar’ is what scholarly publishers do best.”

Feel free to reach out to any reporter that has written about controversial topics in scholarly publishing to see how easy it is to get a spokesperson from a major publishing house to comment. Or for that matter anyone who has put together a panel on a controversial subject.

You could always invite us retired folks to comment. There is no one that can retaliate against us for any controversial comments we make (though i have been booted off one listserv for being controversial).

Not so much a prediction as a call to action to fight against the devaluation of scholarly knowledge and education with renewed vigor. The upcoming elections in the USA and in other places around the world provide an important opportunity to change the course of policy and funding from attacking public education at all levels to using education to elevate individuals, communities, and the entire world economy.

Fair enough. The prediction is the opportunity. How we respond is indeed my hopeful call to action.

I predict more consolidation. Libraries will discover they know nothing about publishing and figure out a way to get out of the business. Societies and associations will sign more deals with commercial publishers because of the high cost of providing access. Smaller scholarly publishers will sell out to the larger ones because they just cannot compete.

Good point Harvey. I predict the same in the publishing services supplier space. Increased competition, decreased amounts of work (at least in the traditional areas of editing and typesetting, as new forms of publishing emerge), continued downward price pressure and publisher consolidations all point toward the absorption of smaller suppliers and perhaps even the death of some larger ones, as margins get too thin to sustain the existing supplier base. This is a necessary and seemingly inevitable part of the innovation process.

University presses are relatively immune to mergers and buyouts.

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