Research 2030

Breaking up is hard to do. Part 2

November 05, 2019 Episode 2
Research 2030
Breaking up is hard to do. Part 2
Chapters
Research 2030
Breaking up is hard to do. Part 2
Nov 05, 2019 Episode 2
Elsevier

In this continuing discussion on the academic journal, we turn our attention to the shifting kaleidoscope of scholarly communication, in an attempt to understand how publication channels and formats are evolving. This time Michiel Kolman interviews Kent Anderson of Caldera Publishing, who believes we are living through one of the most confusing times in the information space. 

Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • Research Futures report: In 2019, Elsevier and Ipsos MORI joined forces to understand how trends, from advances in technology and funding pressures to political uncertainly and population shifts, might be fueling the changes we'll see in the coming decade. The resulting large-scale, future-scoping and scenario-planning study raised many questions and sparked many conversations, some of which are touched on in this episode.
Show Notes Transcript

In this continuing discussion on the academic journal, we turn our attention to the shifting kaleidoscope of scholarly communication, in an attempt to understand how publication channels and formats are evolving. This time Michiel Kolman interviews Kent Anderson of Caldera Publishing, who believes we are living through one of the most confusing times in the information space. 

Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • Research Futures report: In 2019, Elsevier and Ipsos MORI joined forces to understand how trends, from advances in technology and funding pressures to political uncertainly and population shifts, might be fueling the changes we'll see in the coming decade. The resulting large-scale, future-scoping and scenario-planning study raised many questions and sparked many conversations, some of which are touched on in this episode.
Music:
0:04
[inaudible].
Mancini:
0:07
Hi, I'm Giacomo Mancini. Welcome to Research 2030 an Elsevier podcast series in which guests from academia and beyond join us in exploring, debating and challenging the changing research landscape and welcome to the second of our breaking up is hard to do episodes, in which we turn our attention to the shifting kaleidoscope of scholarly communication in an attempt to understand how publication channels and formats are evolving. For decades now, journals, the peer reviewed content they publish and the metrics we use to measure their impact have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with many aspects of the research ecosystem shaping decisions around funding, researcher careers and institution rankings and more. But much is changing, largely driven by the rapid advances we've witnessed in technology. The key question we've set out to answer in these episodes is how those changes might impact research articles and their journal jacket. I'm delighted to say that Michiel Kolman, president of the international publishers association and senior vice president at Elsevier for information industry relations is on hand to help us. As you might recall in the previous episode, he spoke with Heather Stains, head of partnerships at the MIT futures knowledge group who outlined a future in which research articles continue to evolve following publication. In this episode, Michiel is joined by Kent Anderson of caldera publishing who believes we are living through one of the most confusing times in the information space.
Music:
1:35
[inaudible]
Kolman:
1:37
I'm very happy to introduce our guests, which is Kent Anderson who was publisher of the AAAS, New England journal of medicine. Started I think, scholarly kitchen and is now running caldera publishing solutions. And I think you're still maybe associated with scholarly kitchen Kent. So Kent, welcome. It's great to have you on board.
Anderson:
1:58
Thank you very much. Michiel,
Kolman:
2:00
is there anything else I missed in my introduction?
Anderson:
2:03
Just about a year ago I launched a subscription E newsletter called the Geyser, which, uh, publishes daily and covers a lot of topics of relevance to scholarly publishers, editors, people in the information space. The goal is to humanize the, what we're talking about. And so I have a lot of interviews with people who are actually doing the work and who actually are setting the policies and, and thinking about these things.
Kolman:
2:28
Great. Yes. And I must say, I do read it almost every day and I know my colleagues here at Elsevier do as well. So, all right, back to the topic for today, the research journal, but before we dive in there, um, let's explore a bit how you view that the world of research itself is evolving and of course, what are then implications for the way information is discovered in shared?
Anderson:
2:54
Right. Well, I think for the past 20 years we've spent a lot of time modeling the behaviors of Silicon Valley and the information theories that are both implicit and explicit around the development of technologies that now essentially have consolidated into a few major players, Facebook, Google, uh, Amazon and Apple and Twitter. And by doing that, I think we've lost, we've lost track of sort of our purpose and our remit and we've kind of turned over, surrendered some of our, uh, special and unique and important valuable contributions. And I think now it's shifting back to a great degree based on user demand, which is more around quality, more around trust and I think essentially pushing back and saying we've gone too far that, that now the downsides of information weaponization and um, just, you know, unfettered information sharing have become too obvious and people have found ways to exploit that and they want more human expert control exerting itself. And I think we'll get into those topics, but I think you know, that that goes to how things are funded, who pays for what, it goes to how at what stages things are released, it goes to a lot of different topics.
Kolman:
4:19
So in a way you see that the tech backlash could be an inspiration for the STM publishing industry.
Anderson:
4:26
I think what it is is a, an exploitation backlash and a feeling victimized backlash. And I think people are tired of feeling victimized and just pummeled constantly by information and having to deal with, there is just, you know, there's, there's just a point of exhaustion that, that, you know, is that true? Is that not true? Is that person biased? Is it not biased? And so they're, they're consolidating their attention again around trusted outlets. And so newspapers, magazines, all those subscriptions are up because people have basically said, my, my time and attention is worth more to me. And I, that was, that was interesting. That was an experience. But it, the downsides became really apparent and I want some sanity in my life and I want expertise again.
Kolman:
5:18
So when people say information just wants to be free, you're essentially saying it comes with a price. So to say.
Anderson:
5:25
Well I mean we have to again always complete that quote from Stewart Brand, which is information a wants to be expensive too because the right information at the right point can be priceless. And I think, you know, and along that spectrum that you know, good information is worth something and better information is worth more and worse information is worth less. And if you, you know, kind of just honor that very simple rule, you tend to see the world functioning you in more toward the middle of that spectrum, uh, with a little bit of wiggle room on either side and not at the extremes.
Kolman:
6:04
And what are the implications for say, the, the academic journal?
Anderson:
6:10
Well, I think there are a few. I think that one of the implications has been the internalization of the ideas that the digital tech, the digital landscape is cheaper to run in the print landscape was and you know, so the information wants to be free, kind of coincided with the emergence of the internet. People conflated those two notions that Oh, digital can be free or much less expensive. Think what experience has shown us is that that's not true. That digital technologies are expensive to build, maintain, purvey, upgrade, and expand and extend. And I remember I worked in print and print was actually very cheap and efficient. You could, it was very much a batch process. You would finish an issue, you'd send it to the printer and then you would work on the next one and you pretty much would forget about the issue that you know, maybe two or three issues ago, you wouldn't really worry about those, you know, libraries were storing them on shelves.
Anderson:
7:07
You didn't have to as a publisher, have to pay to archive them. You didn't have to worry about upgrading all of that content.
Kolman:
7:15
No long-term preservation at all.
Anderson:
7:17
No long-term preservation, no long-term up, you know, upgrading, you didn't have to put it through another DTD or jets, you know, conversion, things like that. So, you know, so I think one of the implications has been that people who have been paying attention have learned that digital is actually more expensive and the costs are different, they are fixed costs, meaning salaries and infrastructure, and they're not the variable costs of print, which could be managed more easily. It's easier to take five pounds off your paperweight and save money in a, in a rough year more because you want to shifts, or spend money on something else than it is to fire 12 developers. So, you know, that's, that's kind of, I think one of the lessons that we've learned over the past 20 years is that digital is different, has different dynamics, and is more expensive to run than anybody I anticipated.
Anderson:
8:10
So, you know, once we get, again we get to the point of accepting that then discussions about cost and value and then you also have the vastly expanded bandwidth of digital as far as the number of articles and the size of journals that can be supported. And during the 20 years, you know, journals have increased in size, in number and in and articles have gotten longer, reference lists have gotten longer. All of those things are prices that people have to pay for. Submissions have gone up around the board, those are expensive to handle. So the whole, in aggregate the system has gotten more expensive and then volume has gone up dramatically because China has entered the market in the past 20 years and now outpaces the US as a producer of research. So there's no, I, I've, I've seen no measure of the scholarly publications landscape that says this is getting cheaper. I see every measure saying this is getting more expensive. It's getting more complicated. The volumes going up, the scope is going up. And the competition for technology resources is also going to drive expense.
Kolman:
9:18
And maybe also the expectations with the end users.
Anderson:
9:21
Absolutely. I think people, you know like I always used to like to say 99% of the time, your customer spend online is not with you. They're out forming the expectations that they will arrive at your site with. And those expectations will be, you know, Amazon level e-commerce, it will be Apple level interfaces. It will be, you know, Google level search capabilities. All of those things will just necessarily, you'd be brought to your site by users and those companies spend their billions of dollars in expenditures getting those things working as well as they do. And so there you go. You know, you'd have to at least make an attempt.
Kolman:
10:05
And so we are increasingly live in a world of high quality digital solutions, but perhaps that's not always appreciated as much by everybody around us. So how will you explain that kind of divide in opinions?
Anderson:
10:22
I think it, part of it comes from a lack of experience with actual what actually happens. There was a lot of optimism very early on and I, I enjoyed that optimism as well. I thought it was going to be exciting. I thought it was going to be so cheap that we'd be able to do everything we could imagine that we'd, you know, realize all of these benefits. I think what has transpired has, you know, been different than that and kind of a let down. But I also think that some lagging cultural or policy level factor continues to feed into the system that this should be cheap. This should be free.
Anderson:
11:06
This should be, ah, completely available to everybody all the time. You know, there's all sorts of financial and economic pressures that people need to take into account as well. And it's not a great time for, there's not exactly a moonshot going on when it comes to scientific research and the supportive academic careers, scientific careers, scholarly careers. You look at, you know, how tenure tracks are eroding. You look at, you know, adjunct faculty in the U S becoming the norm. You look at all these pressures on young researchers and all of those things are, I think, part and parcel with this entire underfunding of the scholarly infrastructure. And that's another fundamental issue is that everybody thought this was going to get cheaper. And I think actually led people to say, well, we aren't going to need as much money and now that's...yeah. Again, you look at the drivers and that's just not, it hasn't proven to be true at all.
Kolman:
12:04
So you sounded a bit pessimistic about the future of the, you know, the science journal, the research journals, there are so many pressures from so many angles say the ecosystem.
Anderson:
12:16
Yeah. So my, my mindset is I'm optimistic and I'm critical because I believe that only that criticism ultimately will get a response and fix things. So that's the way I'm optimistic is by saying, you know, Hey, we've got a problem over here. If we fix that, things are better. And I think one of the things we could fix would be for the story to shift from publishers are exploitative, publishers are unnecessary, publishers are, you know, blah blah, blah. You go down, whatever the, the list you want to, there's a partnership that exists. One thing that confuses me is that institutional and libraries and publishers fundamentally serve the same people in different ways. And for them to be fighting, um, is kind of, I just don't get it. I don't understand why that is. So one of the things I would, you know, I commend a lot of publishers for is working very closely with libraries and librarians to help them understand how this all works.
Anderson:
13:18
I've been doing my part in that as well. And I think that, you know, through these, but it's a very slow, gradual process. And fundamentally you also have to get up to the administrators at the universities to say, you know, the volume of research has exploded over the last 20 years. The number of people being trained in the STEM disciplines is growing and you're, you're party to that. You're not giving them jobs, you're not paying for the information they need and so on and so forth. So I think being critical and, and really looking at the facts as the way to, to make sure that things do actually improve and, and get back to a place where they've are functional.
Kolman:
13:55
So just the to be a little bit controversial since my background is in physics, um, are the roles of the pre-print servers. So you might meet people in high energy physics was saying, well I have all the information at my fingertips. Every morning I come to the lab, I look at the archives, I read my five articles or manuscripts. Depends where you stand. And that's a little do to trick for me. Maybe I get some articles recommended from colleagues, but that's about it. So what do you think is the future of, of preprint servers and or in general of of manuscripts made available immediately upon submission?
Anderson:
14:33
Well, I think that again, one of the things that we need to always return to and is that journals are essentially community communication tools. They, and by extension to some extent preprint servers are, they're just badly built ones. So for astrophysics, the way the the machines are able to throw off data at such a rate that astrophysicists cannot keep up with even writing papers based on the data that they're getting from 24, seven radio telescope data generation from probes they have all that it is, it's just massive. So they, they can't keep up with the data that their disciplines generating. They try to, they publish as much as they can on archive. Then the journals publish 60, 60 to 70% of that that they deem to be sort of the cream of the crop. But if somebody publishes a paper on archive that says pulsar one, two, three is exhibiting this behavior, and that turns out to be wrong, no kid's going to get sick.
Anderson:
15:43
Nobody's going to make a public policy decision that is going to, you know, lead to, uh, deleterious health outcomes. When you move into the biological sciences, you start to get into a whole different range of risks. And I think by mimicking the kind of behavior of one community, which makes sense for that community and just blindly applying it to other communities that's not responsible. And I think what has happened with some of the preprint servers as they've been pretty irresponsible in actually tuning there, uh, their design of their preprint servers to the information, the audience, the potential risks. I think Med archive has done a slightly better job than bio archive. I think Sci archive has not done a good job. It varies.
Kolman:
16:33
What's the differences between the three mentioned and why do you think one did a better job than the other?
Anderson:
16:38
Well, so Med archive has a warning on the very front page that says nothing in here is peer reviewed essentially. And you should, the media shouldn't cover it. People shouldn't use it at all for making personal healthcare decisions. It disclaims the entire site basically. And that's a step in the right direction. Bio archive doesn't do that. Bio archive has small print in gray type unfree prints that haven't been accepted. And I've seen, and I'll be publishing later this week, an analysis of how some of those preprints have made it into the press and actually caused health scares. That's irresponsible to me that you would, and then you have also how five-year-old preprints still up there that that were covered by the media, never seen a peer reviewed publication and all the information's out there, people can still find it. I infer from the fact that it's ever been published that it's either abandoned by the authors or has been rejected by the collective community that it was intended to, um, to speak to or both.
Anderson:
17:40
So, and you know, I don't think contributing to the level of confusion in society is a good thing. And I don't think it's something that designers as preprint servers actually intended do, but they also didn't, they aren't self reflective enough that I've seen to actually say, Oh, we made a mistake. But Med archive is a step in the right direction. Sci archive doesn't do the same. It doesn't disclaim its materials as well. But there was a story in the New York times this summer about how the body politic is in the U S is thinking and it was based on a Sci archive pre-print that's a year old has never been published in a peer reviewed journal. And you know, we have enough misinformation about the politics in the U S that we don't need scholars. Yes. And there's, you know, there are publishing partners contributing to that by sort of disrespecting peer review, not giving it the time it needs.
Anderson:
18:33
Not saying that for, you know, for you to get distribution for you to get a permanent identifier for you to get a branded outlet, you need to go through peer review. You need to uh, take a breath and let people striving to be objective. Third parties take a look at this and see if it's good enough. Two, get out to that public interface. So, you know, I think for astrophysics that's not such a concern.
Kolman:
19:01
That's clearer. You said on the pre-print servers that, you did refer to trustworthy information and accountability. Is that still provided by peer review or you see already different developments? In that area as well.
Anderson:
19:15
Yeah, I think that again, we've, we've modeled some of the behaviors of, you know, people who don't respect peer review and so we've shifted peer review from you know, novelty, quality, you know, repeatability and finality too, you know, is it scientifically valid, whatever that means.
Anderson:
19:36
And that's an a term that we haven't really defined well or satisfactorily. I've read some of the open peer review reviews and if you know, there, there was clear that in many cases it was clear one of the reviewers was rejecting it. But I also think we need to not be entirely devoted to looking only at peer review as a solution. Editorial or review is a huge part of what makes a good journal. That is you have an editor editorial team and associate editor panel at the head of the journal and they define a lot about how that journal relates to the community. It's really is intellectual work by experienced people and it's hard to, hard to sort of, you know, try to automate that. But I think editorial review is, you know, is one of the things that we need to pay more attention to and is where a lot of differentiation happens around quality information. I mean desk reject is a huge part of saying not in my house.
Kolman:
20:36
And you mentioned before, you know, this incredible rise from China. Unfortunately most of the reviewers are outside of China, so an incredible burden also on the whole system. The, so if these editorial review will kind of lighten the burden on the peer review system, I think that's also something to take into consideration.
Anderson:
20:56
Yeah, it's interesting, one of the, just back to preprints for a moment, one of the things that I learned when I was a pup in the industry was that an editor told me that, you know, 30% of papers should never be published. Just rule of thumb. As he'd worked for 20-30 years on journals, he kind of learned that. And every other journal I worked on or consulted with or you know, advised that rule of thumb held true. Then you look at bio archive and 30% of the preprints never get published anywhere. So it seems to be a decent rule of thumb. The, like you said, if editors can pick those 30% out right off the top that are coming into their office and say, Nope, that's not for us. And then another, usually 20 to 30% that just don't meet the scope of the journal, don't meet how it wants to interface with its community then you're down to, you know, 50 40% of submissions that actually go out for peer reviews. So absolutely.
Kolman:
21:58
My final question is a bit like looking forward. So, and I understand already from your, your answers so far that there are ongoing themes, so to say about accountability and trustworthiness. Where do you see the developments on sharing research and research outcomes in the area around journals say five years from now or 10 years from now?
Anderson:
22:22
Well, I think journals represent, again, communities and those communities are, it's always shifting their boundaries and overlapping and interesting and new ways. I think that, you know, the open science movement is an attempt to make it so that some of those boundaries can be seen through and potentially there can be more collaboration across boundaries that people didn't realize were actually shared in some way. Because you know, that's one of the things that conversations can yield is that you have things in common he didn't understand. But another thing about open science is it needs to be funded and you know, so I think that we're going to continue to face funding pressures as you know, because we're going to continue to see more science generated. We're going to continue to see people looking for high quality information. But I, I, it's hard to predict from here what's going to happen.
Anderson:
23:14
Actually for me, I think this is one of the most confusing times in the information space I've ever seen. You've got looming regulation of Facebook and Google in the U S. You've got the EU is still activist in properly so. Other countries you have China that is actively participating in misinformation and now 70 countries are participating in that because they've learned that it's a great way to wield political power in a shadowy fashion. You have people in our space who are saying, you know that that all information should just be put out there and you have a public that suffers from time to time from that, I don't know what the future holds. I think that what I hope is that people will continue to push us to make sure that the information we put out to the public interface is high quality, trusted, trustworthy and we'll guide them toward answers that they have a high confidence will be true or helpful or at least work in their favor and I think if we do that we'll be in better shape and all the other things might straighten out to some degree after that. I think that's where in some ways publishers need to take the lead and say, actually, this is what we stand for. This is what we do. One of the things I've spent on my mind is, you know, we've moved into this author service mode and I think, you know, my experiences, it's better when we partner with authors and partner with institutions. And so I think, you know, exerting our ideals and are experience on the market will only help the market kind of serve its purpose, which is again, to serve the public, not to serve itself.
:
24:59
Great. Great. I liked that very much. So I share with you a little bit the, the uncertainty of where are we going. That's it. To go back to, you know, the core functions that we all serve around trustworthiness, around quality. I think that's a very powerful message. So thank you so much for doing this, uh, this podcast with us. It was great having you here as a guest and uh, I look forward to, to hearing much more from you through the Geyser and scholarly kitchen and all your other outlets. Thanks again, Kent.
Anderson:
25:30
Thank you.
Music:
Mancini:
25:33
It's clear that for Kent journals still have a role to play in the research ecosystem with readers craving the reassurance of an expert filter and high quality authoritative content. It's also clear that he believes publishers have a job to do and ensuring those needs are met. Some of his views chime with those expressed by our previous guest on breaking up his art to do Heather stains, but there are some fascinating differences as well. If you didn't catch Michiel's interview with Heather, it's available now and please don't forget to subscribe through research 2030 so you are notified when future episodes are released. Interested in discovering more about how the future of scholarly communication might unfold and was a key theme in Elsevier's 2019 Research Future study alongside an essay devoted to the topic. The research contains three plausible scenarios all set a decade from now, which make it clear that whatever the winds of change bring journals and articles won't escape untouched. You can download the report from our website or you can also find the link and more information in our show notes. In closing, we want to thank Kent Anderson for joining us here on research 2030 as well as Michiel Kolman for hosting this episode. I'm Giacomo Mancini. Thank you for listening and research 2030 is an official Elsevier podcast.
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