It’s always a good time to think about the future, but somehow the beginning of the year seems an especially appropriate time. With the changes afoot in scholarly communication practices, sentiment, and business models, this couldn’t be a better time to consider what the target might look like. What are we all aiming for?

For the moment, let’s put business models aside and think about the form and flow of research and discovery. Is the article (pre- or post-publication), book, journal, etc — our current containers — and the byproducts that surround them the best we can do?

This month we asked the Chefs: What form might scholarly communications take in the future?

"Changes ahead" traffic sign in city

Joe Esposito: As Bill Clinton said, It all depends on what the meaning of “is” is. What do we mean by “the article”? If the article is a report on a specific research topic, then the article will be with us for a long time, as (barring witchcraft) we will always have research and a need to communicate results. The article will differ from what we mostly see today in that it will be integrated into a broad suite of services, from discovery to analytics, as the act of publication will be the equivalent of plugging into a network; the principal audience will be machines. From such small contributions great things will come. The standards for plugging in will be proprietary, as the not-for-profit sector cannot compete with the narrowly focused aims of someone bent on making money. There will be at most 2-3 such networks of information in every broad discipline, and perhaps only 2-3 overall. The key policy question of this future will not be access but antitrust. Silicon Valley witticism: A standard is a good thing; everybody should have one.

The article will differ from what we mostly see today in that it will be integrated into a broad suite of services, from discovery to analytics, as the act of publication will be the equivalent of plugging into a network; the principal audience will be machines.

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe: Scholarly communications will take the form of whatever technologies (and I mean technologies very broadly – tools, techniques, etc.) emerge. I guess this also reveals that I think of scholarly communications very broadly! I think the real question is what form(s) of scholarly communications will be legitimized by reward systems and find a primary place in discovery systems. What we can see is that the journal article has incredible staying power it seems — at least in those disciplines and fields where it has taken hold and where it has not the book/monograph seem to occupy that same space. While I can imagine a world in which the article is displaced from primacy, my force field analysis is that the article will continue to reign supreme absent a radical disruption and reconfiguration in the recruitment/retention/tenure/promotion/reward system, which does not appear to be on the horizon.

I think the real question is what form(s) of scholarly communications will be legitimized by reward systems and find a primary place in discovery systems.

Tim Vines: This is a bit Schol Comms 101, but communication is a two-body problem: there’s both a sender and a receiver, and information passes most efficiently when the sender is emitting information in a format that the receiver is expecting. So, you can change articles however you want, but unless the new format sparks a concomitant change in readers’ expectations, you’ll fall flat. Sparking such a change is difficult because you must present the information in a way that can be received (almost) as efficiently as the current format, but still somehow improves the reader experience.

Most progress will instead occur as annotations on the article text.

Despite a lot of huffing and puffing, we therefore won’t get far from the traditional Abstract-Introduction-Methods-Results-Discussion format for decades to come. Most progress will instead occur as annotations on the article text. Articles already contain live links to referenced articles, and future annotations could, for example, indicate the level of support for a particular point, or flag citations to retracted articles.

Rick Anderson: I don’t see any reason to believe that the article itself is ever going to go away – I won’t assert that it _couldn’t_ go away entirely, but at this point I don’t see why it should. It seems to serve its intended function perfectly well, and it will (or at least should) persist as a form for as long as it continues to do so. That being said, the boundaries of the “article” have definitely become more porous over the past decade or so, and probably will become more so as time goes on. Preprints, blog posts, data sets, etc. will all continue to be important products of scholarship and each will continue to serve some of the functions that were, in the past, served only by traditionally-configured articles. If I were a more creative thinker I’d be able to come up with predictions of new forms in the future. For now I’ll just say that I’m not sure we can assume there will ever be “life after the article.” Unlike (for example) the journal issue, which stopped making sense as a unit of scholarly output years ago. I can easily imagine the article itself persisting as a useful format indefinitely.

…the boundaries of the “article” have definitely become more porous over the past decade or so, and probably will become more so as time goes on.

Charlie Rapple: This is a question I’ve been focusing on a lot lately. Kudos, with a range of partners including Editage, AIP Publishing, De Gruyter and Karger, is in the middle of a research study exploring the different ways that researchers communicate their work, to increase engagement during a project or to maximize visibility and application of findings. By understanding the reasons they communicate and the ways in which they do this, we hope to identify areas in which more support is required. Our survey opened this week and has had over 2,500 responses already (indicating the readiness of researchers to comment on this topic). We’re also about to launch versions in Chinese, Japanese and Korean (so will have some valuable insights into the commonalities and differences). We will separately be undertaking tele-interviews with university administrators and funders — the people who make the decisions about how researchers and their work are evaluated. This is of course the pivotal point in terms of the forms that scholarly communications might take in the future.

Whatever happens will reflect three things: things that work, things that researchers like doing, and things that they are told to do, or that they think will give them the best shot at a promotion or grant. As for the forms that might become more common, several researchers I’ve met say that the most engagement with their work comes via slide decks. Meanwhile, the UK’s KEF consultation (proposed plan for a framework to better drive and evaluate “knowledge exchange”) includes “co-authorship with non-academic partners” as a proposed metric. As Lucy Ayre (Research Services Consultant (Research Metrics) at the University of Leicester) has pointed out, grey literature is “the publication route of choice for many knowledge exchange partnerships”. So the growing focus on “knowledge mobilization”, coupled with more nuanced and sophisticated approaches to researcher evaluation, may result in much more communication via project reports and associated materials (such as videos and infographics). I’ll be reporting back on the headline findings of our study at the STM Spring Conference, so should have more to say on this topic by then!

So the growing focus on “knowledge mobilization”, coupled with more nuanced and sophisticated approaches to researcher evaluation, may result in much more communication via project reports and associated materials (such as videos and infographics).

Lettie Conrad: This topic always gets me thinking about formal and informal modes of scholarly communication. Informal modes are proliferating and suggest some interesting new directions, that could potentially reinvent publishing orthodoxy. Web annotation, for example, is catching on as a new mode of collaboration, peer review, and other research functions. Live and recorded video is also findings its place in the research workflow — while these formats are not yet fully accepted as formal publication vehicles, they could easily become part of the academic cannon of the future.

Informal modes are proliferating and suggest some interesting new directions, that could potentially reinvent publishing orthodoxy.

The formal methods of disseminating research and analysis — whether our well-loved journal article or new models of the future — will always need to be wrapped in some form of quality assurance and validity measures. I can’t see functions like peer review going away entirely, as authority must be established to pass muster with tenure / promotion committees, job qualifications, etc. I think this week’s announcement of the new “Elements” program from Cambridge University Press is a nice alternative to traditional journal and book channels. It’s an exciting time to be in the information business!

Alison Mudditt: Given that many of my fellow Chefs are likely to focus on the scientific article, I’m going to highlight some of the exciting trends in the humanities where new digital technologies are enabling researchers to rethink research, publication and teaching.

Like the sciences, the humanities are pushing the boundaries of traditional peer review and how works are created…MIT Press is experimenting with a pre-print style posting and open review approach to monographs through their Works in Progress program

Like the sciences, the humanities are pushing the boundaries of traditional peer review and how works are created. For example, MIT Press is experimenting with a pre-print style posting and open review approach to monographs through their Works in Progress program. Following initial vetting by the Press, works are posted on the PubPub site for open discussion to facilitate further review and development. The considerable response to projects such as Data Feminism are proving the potential of this new approach.

The longer time-frame over which a book is constructed allows more integrated and creative linking than we’ve seen in journal articles and while many narratives are still expressed in book form, authors are increasingly excited to link these with the rich data they have gathered during their research. At the University of Michigan Press, digital humanists are pushing the boundaries of such work, but scholars across fields who wouldn’t self identify as ‘digital’ are leveraging the technology, especially in fields rich in multimedia. The development of new platforms like Fulcrum and the growth of open access humanities funders like TOME (Towards an Open Monograph System) are enabling a future in which books become truly networked objects.

The longer time-frame over which a book is constructed allows more integrated and creative linking than we’ve seen in journal articles and while many narratives are still expressed in book form, authors are increasingly excited to link these with the rich data they have gathered during their research.

Moving further away from traditional formats, entirely new research outputs are already with us (for example, the RomeLab project at UCLA which uses the physical and virtual city to study the interrelationships between historical phenomena and the spaces and places of the ancient city). The challenge for both scholars and publishers is now to create new channels of publication – initiatives such as Stanford University Press’s digital scholarship project are leading the way with new publishing processes that will both confer the same level of scholarly credibility and help authors to reach new audiences.

Jasmine Wallace: Our industry has already started to shift from the container being less important than the content, so the article of today will definitely not “look and feel” the same as the article of the future. However, even after the “look and feel” of the article of today changes, disseminating information will continue to be the purpose of the content. Just as music had a life after the record, cassette tape and compact disc – there is definitely life for content after the article. Once the article is gone and we have fully transitioned into a world where there is an over-abundance of useful content, the reach of the content will need to expand further and to an even wider academic community.

Scholarly communication will likely become shapeless and fluid, taking no definitive form, and blurring the lines completely between collaboration and discoverability.

Scholarly communication will likely become shapeless and fluid, taking no definitive form, and blurring the lines completely between collaboration and discoverability.  As a result, the process by which academics and scholars share and publish their research findings will likely shift more than anything else does. The phases of the scholarly communication life cycle will no longer be to first research then author and publish; and lastly to store and archive. Rather it will start to look a bit more like this – a researcher is conducting their research, and in live time their findings are shared and published to the community at-large. Academics will be able to give feedback at the same time the research is actively taking place; and it will be as though scholars are directly connected to each other in the same lab or institution. Moreover, there will be a need to not only get the information out faster, but for content to be more readily accessible, true and justified as it is being produced.


It’s interesting to see the range of Chef opinions on how the future might look. Some focused on science others on humanities, some on journals others on books. Some saw capabilities layered on what exists today (annotation, discovery, integration of video, increased opportunity for integration, more transparency and sharing earlier in the research workflow, etc.). Others saw the environment evolving to be more “shapeless and fluid”. We intentionally did not give a time horizon for what we were considering “the future.”

If time is infinite, perhaps our opportunities and innovations can be as well!?

Now it’s your turn, What form do you think scholarly communications might take in the future?

Ann Michael

Ann Michael

Ann Michael is CEO of Delta Think, a business and technology consulting and advisory firm focused on strategy and innovation in scholarly communications. Ann is an ardent believer in data informed decision-making and was instrumental in the 2017 launch of the Delta Think Open Access Data & Analytics Tool (OA DAT), a comprehensive, interactive, regularly updated data set with diverse visualizations and extensive analysis. Ann is a Past President of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) and a member of the Learned Publishing Editorial Board. She is currently pursuing her second master’s degree, in Business Analytics, at the NYU Stern School (May 2019).

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Discussion

12 Thoughts on "Ask The Chefs: The Future Form Of Scholarly Communication"

Well done! First speaker videos from the APE 2019 Conference last week in Berlin are now available at ape2019.eu

Re: Esposito’s comment: ” as the not-for-profit sector cannot compete with the narrowly focused aims of someone bent on making money”.

Thank you for expressing this faith in greedy behaviour. But Esposito undervalues the strength coming out of principled behaviour. Why he does so is a question he will have to answer himself.

Do you consider all efforts to make money to be “greedy” and “unprincipled behaviour”? What does this say about researchers and universities who patent the results of their research?

Thanks for the link to the still very relevant post from 2013. The argument that patents are important for researchers is a description of how the system currently works, but says little about how it could or should work. The question is whether patents provide a better mechanism for funding research than other options, such as directly spending tax money. Given how patents are abused by the pharamaceutical industry (ex: Revlimid), and how much time and energy is wasted on them (ex: CRISPR), I am skeptical. Moreover, “driving the economy” should not be an aim in itself, as economic growth is of course bad for the planet, and maybe even for human health: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00210-0

I consider believing that nothing can motivate action as much as money making a form of simplistic reasoning that reduces human beings to something much less than what they are. The question, therefore, is not logically related to the statement I made.

Sorry, just quoting your actual words. I think you’re also misreading Joe’s statement, suggesting he claims anything about motivation, where as my read on it is about the effects of higher levels of investment and the resulting performance.

Sorry! You are the one mis-reading. I translated “bent on making money” as “greedy” as I take it that being “bent” is pretty intense. Of course, English is not my native tongue, but I do have some feel for it.
I spoke of “principled behaviour” as a positive motivating force. I did not claim that “making money” – your phrase, and quite different from “bent on…” – was unprincipled.
Finally, the “alleged misreading” actually reiterates my claim: economics does indeed consider human beings as basically selfish and some economists even try to elevate this claim to moral levels (e.g Friedrich Hayek). Elinor Ostrom might have a couple of things to say to all this…

As noted in several comments, regardless of how research is shared, there is the paramount issue of consideration for the purpose of promotion, tenure, grant awards and related external uses. With this in consideration:
a) The journal becomes a convenient “container” for collection, processing and distribution but not necessarily limited by a time-base for distribution nor numbers per unit of distribution

b) In a digital world, search, extract and interpretation can increasingly done, down to a sentence, more quickly and efficiently by AI, increasingly as it approaches AGI, again eliminating the journal as a container

c) As we are seeing, there are various forms of “social media” which allow for more efficient ways for handling what is now considered “peer review” assisted by AI tools to enhance human capabilities and time constraints.

d) As the internet, increasingly with 5G and other capabilities, shows, human (peer) networking and sharing makes the current adherence to the world of journals more like the delayed or non interaction by collegial scholars in text format delivered in hard copy formats.

Basically, at some point, scholars need to stop wandering the halls in their academic robes and look outside the walls of the Ivory Towers. This holds for the providers of the current format who continually invent patches for the extant system.

I really fear the faith placed in AI. I am am witnessing a marginalization of content in a platform because of the way their AI is leveraged. I am doing what I can to “fix” it, but I seem to be alone in my concern that a method of discovery is being undermined by inaccurate taxonomy.

I agree with your overall point that the future of scholarly comms will come down to how scholars open their doors and engage with the world differently than they have. But we are also going to need some serious canaries to pause and reflect on our trust in machines.

Thanks Alexa

Think of Eugene Garfield’s creation (the various citation indices and their evolution) which allowed researchers to scan for topics and materials across journals. Today, there are services that use an AI engine to do this scanning not just across titles and key words but down to sentences in article. To find a key idea now transcends the boxes called journals Garfield also created the impact factor as a measure but which is now an end in itself. This is basic taken a micro step forward. What it does, though, is changing the nature of a journal (primarily an entry point) and the market value of the title and it and article impact factors, and a recalibration of measures and economics of the publishers.

One doesn’t have to go much beyond these basics.

Although, the Susskind’s book, The Future of the Professions and the recent Oxford book, Baldwin’s “The Globotics Upheaval” point out that many of those in the publishing end of the journal business will be subject to the same displacement as the lower skilled (and that includes those who publish articles).

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