Continuing our series of “Smorgasbord” posts from scholarly communications meetings and events around the world this (northern hemisphere) spring, today Chefs Angela Cochran and Alice Meadows share their takeaways from (respectively) the 2023 International Society of Medical Publishing Professionals conference in May and the Research Data Alliance’s 20th Plenary Meeting in March.
Patients, Plain Language Summaries, and AI
I attended the International Society of Medical Publishing Professionals (ISMPP) the first week of May. ISMPP is a very niche organization of mostly pharmaceutical company publication planners and medical writing professionals. When I say niche, that does not mean small. There were over 700 people in attendance at the meeting in Washington, DC.
The theme of the meeting was “Patient First” and there were fascinating discussions about patient authors, engaging patient advocacy groups in medical literacy programs, and even including patients in every step of clinical trial design. A strong pattern to the Patient First theme was also how journals can produce content for non-specialists and patients. “Article extenders” were discussed in many different contexts — video, infographics, interactive infographics, visual abstracts, podcasts, etc. In fact, many of the exhibitors at the meeting were companies that provide these services. There were also many very informative posters, some of which looked at article extenders and found that the number one audience were other health care professionals that were not specialists in the subject matter covered.
The second most prevalent theme was Plain Language Summaries (PLS). ISMPP has had several working groups, guidance documents, webinars, etc., about creating PLS. Some of these are being published with the papers (and indexed with the PubMed record) while others are standalone PLS. What has been missing from the PLS discussion, and still is in my opinion, are metrics. The same is true for article extenders. There are some reports that show papers with PLS and extenders get more views, but these data suffer from selection bias in many cases. If the journal has invested in extenders and/or PLS, then that paper is likely also getting press releases and/or social media attention and therefore more views.
Interestingly, the pharma companies sponsoring the research are creating this content with or without the journals. Pfizer is posting this content on their own Figshare site if a journal cannot accommodate the content. The usage data presented on these Figshare posted multimedia files was not impressive, but that is not unexpected when the content does not appear with the journal article. The bottom line is that more/better analytics are needed to assess whether the multimedia content is worth the expense.
The last huge theme of the meeting was the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and large language models (LLM) in the production of content. Two of the keynotes were about AI and LLMs, as well as a panel discussion (disclosure: I was a panelist) and several concurrent sessions and round-table discussions. It was no surprise that pharma companies are already using AI for many data discovery and analysis purposes. Loubna Bouarfa, CEO of Okra.AI, gave one keynote titled “The 4th Industrial Revolution in Life Science: Reshaping Healthcare and Medical Communication with AI.” She made a provocative prediction that within 5 years, AI and LLM tools will be capable of writing competent scientific papers. She warned of the quagmire of ethical questions that will arise and encouraged that we (medical communication partners from all sectors) start thinking about the guardrails that should be put in place now.
Shortly after Bouarfa’s statement, I walked two blocks to the STM Association meeting. It was staggering to come from one meeting that was so focused on AI and the use of LLMs in scholarly communications from the content creators’ perspective, to a publishing meeting in which AI and LLMs were barely discussed. In fairness, Artificial Intelligence is listed as one of the STM 2027 Tech Trends to watch, but it was jarring to feel like some portion of our author community is ready to hit the go button and we aren’t particularly ready for it.