Research Remix

December 3, 2011

thoughts on where journals are now, what to do next

Filed under: Uncategorized — Heather Piwowar @ 2:59 pm

With my Dryad hat on I was recently invited to participate in a “Future of Research Dissemination” day at BMJ.  Invitees were asked to give brief introductory remarks on what journals are doing now to enhance the experience of research and readers, what researchers and readers want, and then at the end what publishers ought to be doing now to future-proof themselves.

My take, fwiw, with some links to previous blog posts with more detail:

What are journals doing now wrt data?

Journals are increasingly recognizing that the datasets which support the findings in their articles are a crucial resource. They are working to make them more available and more useful.

There is increasing recognition that datasets are different than articles:

  • how they are peer-reviewed (or not)
  • how they are licensed
  • how they are discovered
  • how they are preserved
  • how they are financed

For all of these reasons, supplementary information is probably not the right place for datasets. Journals, along with others in the scholarly ecosystem (spurred on by recent requirements by funders for increased data availability, and evidence that researchers often don’t makedata available, including for example in cancer) are trying to figure out how best to move forward.

Data repositories are gaining traction as a best practice solution.

Some journals, like BMJ Open, integrate data submission with data repositories like Dryad to make things as easy as possible for authors and in some cases also peer-reviewers.

Journals are also reconsidering their own policies with respect to data, becoming more and more explicit about what is expected from authors.

There is repeated evidence (1, 2, 3, others) of a strong correlation between data archiving policies and impact factor; high IF journals are more likely to expect data to be publicly available, and indeed have been measured to have the highest rate of data availability.

Requiring data archiving in the current culture can feel daunting. One approach taken by the top-tier journals in evolutionary biology was to adopt a coordinated Joint Policy for Data Archiving. Starting in this last January all of those journals began requiring data archiving as a condition of publication simultaniously.

Finally, journals just in the beginning of ways to support synergistic discovery. Links between papers and data, full-text search because of course a paper is the best metadata for a dataset, and article open metrics of use are getting off the ground. It is crucial these are available for both humans and machines (apis) to enable innovative and meaningful use. Also it is key they are open. Google Scholar etc isn’t, can’t spider, can’t reuse, can’t mashup.

What do researchers and readers want?

Lots of things.  To pick one:  Recognition for the labour they’ve put in to creating data, and meaningful credit for anything built on top of it.

This is primarily a function for funders and institutions, but journals can play a unique role in making the appropriate credit explicit.

Citations to datasets is a start, but we must go further than that, because citations are too minor.  For example, we could ask authors what resources were essential to the research they are reporting and then revealing those debts in structured and open ways for remixing.

What steps should journals take now (in the next year or two) to future-proof themselves?

(I was one of the last ones in the room to chip in.  OA (and in particular proper OA without NC), article level metrics, collaborating with other publishers, extending open peer review, experimenting in general, adopting stronger data policies, etc had already been mentioned.

  1. open computer programming interfaces to full text search, open impact metrics, and deep metadata to facilitate external innovation
  2. software challenges for innovative applications, because those are the relationships you want to build
  3. signal the way to best practices, by asking reviewers if “all resources have been made appropriately available” and by leaving space on submission form for “dataset IDs”   (hat tip to John Wilbanks).  When in doubt with these tactics and policies be brave not conservative.
  4. experiment with new and more profound forms of acknowledgement for essential scholarly building blocks
  5. start practicing living within lower profit margins.  (!).


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