The Future of Research Communications and e-Scholarship

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The days when scholarly communication was based exclusively on paper articles (or their electronic equivalents, i.e., PDF pages) is over. The opportunities offered by the Internet and the Web have opened up new possibilities that all scientific disciplines will have to adopt, eventually. These opportunities include what is published, as well as how communications happens.

First, the issue of “what”. More and more researchers realize that there is a huge value in raw data that are related and, often, are indeed at the basis of their research results. These data can be very different: they can include the results of a sociological polls in the form of CSV file as well as videos showing the effect of photorealistic rendering in computer graphics; runnable codes of mathematical algorithms as well as digitized artefacts of an ethnological field research; or images stemming from an astronomical telescope as well as a collection of audio recordings used in musicology. By publishing those data alongside, or maybe even instead of, the traditional, one-dimensional article, peers can make use of those data to check the statements and conclusions of the research, but they may also reuse that data for their own work just like they refer to the results published in papers. A publication, in a general sense, becomes a small network of interrelated set of data, a “research object”, which may of course include a PDF version of a traditional paper, but also all the other type of data in digital format. One of the challenges of the coming years is to develop the concepts, the tools, as well as the social acceptance of that type of publications which will, on long term, replace the purely paper-oriented paradigm of research publications.

Then there is also the issue of “how”. The dominating paradigm of scholarly communication today is based on publishing papers or books that refer to other publications; by this chain of references scientific ideas evolve through time and across communities. However, recent developments of the social Web has opened up new possibilities for communications: micro-blogging sites like Twitter, blogs, social sites like Facebook, Google+, or their more focussed equivalents like Research Gate, provide an extremely quick, often instantaneous way of exchanging ideas. Due to their ease of use, their speed, their convenience of use, but also the possibilities they all offer to link to non-textual data, these media offer much more dynamic environments to achieve the very essence of “scholarly communication”. Instead of rejecting it (which is currently the case) the research community has to find ways of actively embracing these new approaches to communication and incorporating them into the process of scientific assessments, of judging the value of scientific exchanges, i.e., the advancement of scientific ideas which is, after all, the very essence of scholarly communication.