Chefs have been writing on The Scholarly Kitchen for 10 years now. While much has changed, much has stayed the same. How might things change in the next five years? What will happen in scholarly communications that will be all the rage? Will people be satisfied? Frustrated?

This month we asked the Chefs: What will you be writing about five years from now?

writing journal

Joe Esposito: Sitting here in 2023, two years into the second Trump administration, what is striking is how little progress has been made over the past five years concerning the diversity of the work force in scholarly communications. The determination to move this issue forward five years ago was strong and sincere, but the results have been modest. (Libraries have done a better job in this area than publishers.) The staffing is still predominantly white, with a very large representation of women. The most noticeable gain has been in the number of women (mostly white) in upper management.

There are many reasons for this — sociological and political — but one often overlooked item is that there are simply fewer of us — that is, fewer people — working in scholarly communications today than there were five years ago. In a shrinking environment, the redistribution of responsibility and status has encountered a great deal of friction. This is despite the fact that industry revenue has grown steadily by single digits every year, and has even grown by more than that on the bottom line. The cause of the decline in staffing is the ongoing and intensifying use of machines in scholarly communications, which take out costs, and the principal cost for any publisher is people. With regard to demographic change over the last five years, the most significant element is that machines — intelligent and not-so-intelligent, like the humans who invented them — now sit at the center of the community.

As we begin the difficult challenge of preparing ourselves for the third Trump administration, we must demand that machines moderate their privileged status and allow us to participate fully in scholarly publishing. After all, there is (still) more to scholarship than text- and data-mining.

Kent Anderson: That’s an interesting question. Having written for this blog for more than 10 years now, it’s striking how stable the topic bins appear to be in retrospect.

Five years hence, I’m sure open access vs. subscription economics (and advertising) will be a topic. I’m sure impact factors and citations will be topics. I’m sure technology will be a topic. I’m sure the pressures of dealing with too much science on too little budget will be a topic. I’m sure there will be some general technology trend that will have us dancing around, figuring out whether it’s a friend, enemy, frenemy, or irrelevant. I’m sure “who is the customer” will be a topic. I’m sure there will be some device that has us talking. I’m sure industry consolidation and business transactions will be topics.

The specifics are elusive, but I’m fairly confident the big buckets will remain largely the same. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Tim Vines: In five years I’ll be writing about the great divide between (mostly younger) researchers that have fully embraced open science and the older generation that still expects to keep their data and code to themselves. Each group will have their go-to journals, with the open crowd foregoing high Impact Factor in favor of higher altmetric scores, and each will doubt the validity of the other’s research.

In five years I’ll be writing about the great divide between (mostly younger) researchers that have fully embraced open science and the older generation that still expects to keep their data and code to themselves. Each group will have their go-to journals, with the open crowd foregoing high Impact Factor in favour of higher altmetric scores, and each will doubt the validity of the other’s research.

Open data will also have partly transformed the health sciences. The fields that can make use of open data in their systematic reviews will be generating more robust results and thus improving patient outcomes more quickly. The fields where institutions and journals refuse to contemplate sharing (anonymized) patient data will lag behind.

In other news, journal independent peer review of preprints will be a common practice, and I’ll be writing about the appropriate balance about reviewing for technical quality and reviewing for ‘fit’ for the relevant journals, and who is best placed to make those decisions.

Robert Harington: Five years from now on the one hand seems a long way off, but from another perspective is almost the present. In my role representing an academic society, (The American Mathematical Society), I imagine that much of what I write about — a society’s view of the publishing landscape, will be along similar lines. I wish I did not have to say that, but I sense that for the big cultural and business issues that societies face, we will see incremental change, but the same priorities and complications will still be top of mind. I do sense that politics across the world is shifting. Nationalism and irrationalism are on the rise, and yet in counter-balance I see the seedlings of a politicized younger generation — our future authors, readers and society members. If this holds strong, assuming we are not living a dystopian nightmare, and are all forced to have the same orange haircut, then this sense of community may well spill over to the way that early career academics view their role critically within their academic communities. I would like to think that I will be able to write about social forces as a success story for societies, through engagement in peer review, participation in the publishing ecosystem, thinking about opportunities for society publishing with these hopes in mind. I sense we will replace discussions of open access with thinking about openness more broadly, viewing academia and publishing as an ecosystem that needs to thrive — in a sense we are already having these discussions now.

Angela Cochran: My crystal ball is a bit foggy, but I really hope that 5 years from now I am writing about new business models. I do not think that journals will go away because there will still be a demand for those services. I don’t mean like copyediting and tagging, though these are services people want, yet love to hate. I am talking about the curation and validation provided by journals. I do not believe that throwing a manuscript online without an organized and facilitated way to perform peer review will work. But I digress.The APC model is not sustainable as it currently exists. The subscription model is strained, though not in the dire straits people like to think. Funders are starting their own publications, but I suspect this will get untenable when they find that their authors and readers demand services that cost money to provide.

My crystal ball is a bit foggy, but I really hope that 5 years from now I am writing about new business models.

So what comes next? I feel like we are in a game of chicken where the libraries are waiting for the publishers to offer something radical and the publishers are waiting for the libraries to do the same. Neither of these groups are particularly fond of radical. That said, as soon as the APC model implodes, or comes close to it, maybe both sides will be forced to come up with something different.

Alice Meadows: I suspect that in five years time I will still be mostly writing about the same things. My main interests are issues around diversity, equality, and inclusion; peer review; and enabling researchers to focus on their work, not the management of it, through improvements to the research infrastructure. They’re all perennial topics in scholarly communications so I’m sure there will still be plenty to talk about in 2023!

One way to think about looking forward is by looking back and, since I’ve been writing for the Kitchen for around five years, it was quite interesting to revisit some of my first posts and see what’s changed since then, and what might change in the next five years.

One of my first posts was about the importance of peer review, and there have been some interesting advances in peer review since then — more opportunities to recognize peer reviewers (e.g., through initiatives like Peer Review Week and services like Publons), greater acceptance of open review as an option for at least some disciplines and communities, peer review training, and more. Peer review will surely continue to evolve to meet the needs of researchers and the community at large, so no shortage of post topics there.

Another early post was on the lack of women at the top of scholarly publishing. That issue is very definitely not fixed but, together with other forms of inequality in our sector, it’s getting a lot more attention now, which makes me hopeful that change is coming — and confident that there will be plenty more to write about.

And so to research infrastructure, where there have certainly been some major changes in the last five years, with a host of new online services and tools for researchers — many of which are outlined in this paper. Indeed, my own organization, ORCID, had only just launched five years ago and is now firmly established as an integral part of the infrastructure! How many more new tools and services we really need is a matter for debate, but it’s a topic I’ll continue to cover.

Judy Luther: To answer this question requires anticipation of the challenges in our environment in 2023. I’ve chosen to focus on areas that seem ripe for disruption in light of progress with new applications of technology and pressures to change existing systems. Debates about peer review will continue to be a hot topic especially in the sciences with the emergence of biology and chemistry preprint servers. Scholarly publishers have worked to streamline production and have achieved some gains in shortening the time to publication. Competitive pressures will encourage implementation of new systems that innovate support for peer review workflow. I’ll be examining new models for peer review and the value of peer review across multiple disciplines.

As AI begins to deliver new benefits, it will be interesting to evaluate the methodologies and delivery strategies to the individual.  Privacy issues will be highlighted as they are today in the public sector with social media. I will be seeking examples of how content can be used to generate new services. How will our metrics change to reflect these developments? Will these enhancements change how we value content?

As AI begins to deliver new benefits, it will be interesting to evaluate the methodologies and delivery strategies to the individual.  Privacy issues will be highlighted as they are today in the public sector with social media.

The answers to these questions will influence the business models I’ll explore, and the value proposition associated with society membership. Working with these natural communities of scholars will involve new approaches to emerging interdisciplinary fields.

I also envision writing about new tools such as Liquid Text that enable us to conduct research and work with digital content in ways that reduce or eliminate the need for a print version. We’ve moved from the transition phase of bringing print content online – to the transformation stage where functionality will change the look and feel of journal article and book formats. It’s an exciting time!

David Crotty: I’m of two minds here. Academia calls the shots, and so much of what is problematic about scholarly publishing is a result of the academic career and funding structure. While it’s been said that “science advances one funeral at a time,” there’s something self-perpetuating about the status quo. Those in power, who could be the real agents of change, got to that position of power (and maintain it) because the current system works really well for them. Radically altering it would harm their own prosperity, as well as that of their students and postdocs. By the time they die off, the next generation has moved into power and finds themselves in the same position. Between that and the great global differences in how universities are funded, I suspect that we’ll at most see incremental changes and still be debating many of the same issues.

On the other hand, as Hemingway told us about going bankrupt, things can happen, “gradually, then suddenly.” We may be at something of a major shift in the industry, which Roger Schonfeld has been writing about (here, here, and here for starters). Publishers and publishing-related companies are shifting away from publishing and toward data analytics and workflow tools. If these trends continue and accelerate, then I suspect that in five years, our two main topics will be questioning whether publishers who haven’t made this shift can survive as essentially feed sources for the data companies, and universities and librarians will be wondering how they managed to get themselves locked in to even bigger big deals than they face today.

Ann Michael: While I won’t say what I will be writing about, I will say what I hope I’m writing about.

  • How the participants in the scholarly ecosystem have developed successful systematic ways to make data-informed decisions. That, while not being slaves to data, they have incorporated the regular use of data into their workflows and become masters at meaningful data interpretation
  • How organizations participating in scholarly communications have become prolific and responsible data sharers, understanding that everyone benefits from a more accurate picture of the ecosystem
  • How scholarly communications has experienced significant advancement in realigning research incentives and evaluating contributions to the scholarly record
  • How we’ve all come to believe that diversity is strength, applying this belief not only to diversity in people, but also in business models, in thought processes, and in approaches to problems and opportunities
  • How we’ve solved the problem of the balance between convenience and privacy (or at least we have developed more effective tools for managing our preferences)

One thing is certain, even if change does not arrive overnight, it does arrive over time.

Who’s to say if five years is enough? I’m sure we’ll be writing about interesting new devices or perhaps how the virtual personal assistant has significantly penetrated research, publication, search, and discovery processes. Technology always moves forward often faster than people do.

Now it’s your turn. What will you be writing (or thinking) about in five years? 

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.

View All Posts by Ann Michael

Discussion

8 Thoughts on "Ask The Chefs: What Will You Be Writing About Five Years From Now?"

Tim, spot on. I am at a technical conference now and had this exact conversation last night. I see editors in their 40s – 50s pushing open data, code, software, etc. These ideas are getting killed as they move up the ladder to more senior editors. This shift will continue as the middle moves up to the top and the students and postdocs of today, who expect openness, take the middle.

I think our role as publishers is to push for the middle. We need to advocate for them and make incremental changes. We don’t need to push the top out (it will happen on its own), but we do need to respond to the needs of the middle and the early career researchers.

I also think there’s more diversity within cohorts than I put forward above – the open science crowd are vocal and active, while those who either passively or actively opposed open data etc stay quiet. There will be rapid improvement in the policies and tools that make open science easier to promote/enforce, so that quiet majority may find its voice.

There will be increased focus on scholarly work in developing countries that are currently relegated to a lower tier of interest. Studies of small island developing states (SIDS) will also increase.

I REALLY wish I didn’t agree with pretty much the entirety of David’s first paragraph, but unfortunately I do. My one quibble would be thinking about “Academia” as a single monolithic entity. If academic librarians (of which I am one) had any REAL power in the current academic structure, other than some modest control over what published content millions of dollars per institution (for the large shops) is spent on each year, you might see real change in the current system within five years.
But libraries (for the most part) and librarians who are not faculty don’t bring in the money, don’t do the research, don’t write and submit for publication, and, perhaps most importantly, don’t control the promotion and tenure system within the academy. Librarians who are faculty are at least part of that system of grant acquisition, research, publication and P&T, but they are a very small percentage of the overall faculty count within a university, so are generally not in a position to effect change on their own.
Most of that large percentage of faculty who are NOT librarians only see the scholarly publishing ecosystem from two primary perspectives, that of producer and consumer of content (there’s also peer review and editing, of course, but not everyone participates in those activities, and they often do so to lesser degrees than they do producing and consuming).
As a result, if those two activities (publication submission/acceptance, and access to the content they need to do their research) work reasonably well, they’re content with the system as it stands because the portions they interact with directly and most closely work well enough for them.
Librarians can and do talk with faculty about where problems exist in OTHER segments of that ecosystem, but in my experience only a minority of those faculty really work to understand what those other issues are and how they impact, as but one example, what their institution spends to acquire the content those faculty both produce and use. And if those faculty don’t have a vested interest in the issues other than submission/acceptance and consumption, there’s very little incentive for them to actively lobby for or work toward change.
That’s why the pace of change in scholarly communication over the last 25 years or so has been slower than almost everyone I’ve ever talked to hoped it would be – the people in the best position to effect change (faculty and institutional administrations) aren’t really motivated to lobby for and work toward that change.
OK, after keying that in I’ve depressed the hell out of myself – I’m going home and having a drink.

Will anybody on the Kitchen be writing about books and long-form research at all? Just askin’… I do hope that in five years’ time the current presumed synonymity (and emphatically not just on the SK) between ‘scholarly communication’ and ‘scientific journals’ might have disappeared, as such a presumption continues to ignore the publishing interests of perhaps 40% of the active researchers in the western world…this matters because the interests and preoccupations of scientific researchers (not least about the status, reproducibility, and open-ness of data) seem to be becoming if anything even more differentiated from those of most non-scientists. I do (of course) appreciate that the balance of research resources as between science and non-science is much closer to c92%-8% than the c60%-40% represented by simple numbers of personnel, and that ever-growing imbalance to some extent answers my own question. Doesn’t make everything right though!

The short answer is yes, we will be writing about books, and probably even more than now. But the answer that I am forced to give is that we will also be writing about new content types that are created for purely machine consumption. And if you could write a long-form piece for a machine audience, you might have a bestseller on your hands (“RAM and Peace”?).

..and yet again, nobody mentions Asia (the continent) even in 2023. The industry which pretty much survives on knowledge produced in Asia, doesn’t even have a representative voice from colleagues there.

Oh boy, more of the same. I don’t debate what any of the SK Chefs have said, but it got me wondering if there is some kind of sea change we can make happen as an industry.

I’m not the first person to think about this and I won’t be the last. Scholarly publishing is a reactive endeavor. It is the vehicle, not the driver. In any kind of publishing, really, the driver is society and its needs and desires; the road-builders are the authors (for scholpub, the scholars), and the vehicle is the publisher. We may not be able to flip this entirely, but we can get a ride in the passenger seat. I’m sure none of this is new either.

Invest (more) via grants, awards, and scholarships: With local, state, and federal government resources shrinking, where is the money for supporting scholarship? Well, publishers have it – at least, the big ones do. Even the middle ones. Put funds behind needed research and commit to publishing it openly after vetting/curating it using stringent criteria.

Convene thinkers: Sponsor short-time events with emerging and established scholars on key topics that will complement your collection. Commit to openly publishing the group’s output after vetting/curating it using stringent criteria.

There’s probably more, but this is as far as I got.

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