The Future of Research Communications and e-Scholarship

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On the eve of the next Beyond the PDF2 conference, I have been meaning to set to electronic paper some thoughts about where we are and where we are going with FORCE11.  Since assuming the role of executive director last July, I have traveled to quite a few conferences and workshops and pored over the daily blog streams.  I am frequently asked “Where is FORCE11 going?” and, perhaps more importantly, “How will you know when you get there?”. 

First, some perspectives on where we are relative to the first Beyond the PDF conference.  I think that I share with many the recollection that BtPDF1 was a unique and transformative event.  It was the first venue where many different groups with clearly a lot of pent up frustration with the current state of scholarly communication and a lot of tools and ideas for moving us beyond the pdf (including new types of pdf’s) came together.  Unlike most conferences where there were a few polite questions, the discussion was lively and uninhibited.  I’d been to conferences where hash tags were posted, but few people used them beyond a few graduate students.  Here the twitter stream regularly exploded and discussion lists were used well before and after the conference..   Many of the audience were clearly masters of new modes of feedback and communication and weren’t afraid to use them.  Indeed, it was the level of enthusiasm and the quality of the discussion that led to formation of FORCE11, because we wanted a vehicle for capturing and focusing the energies on display.  FORCE11 and its Manifesto was produced by the follow up workshop at Dagstuhl later that year.   But I consider the first BtPDF conference the beginning of the movement, if we can call it one. 

Looking over the program from the first BtPDF, we are clearly continue to struggle with some of the same issues:  semantic mark-up, authoring tools, data, nano-publications.  But a lot of work has been done and a lot of progress made.  Some of the tools I learned about for the first time at BtPDF1:  Mendeley, Altmetrics have continued to mature and some might even be called mainstream, except when I talk to people outside of the FORCE11-like communities, there is less awareness of them than you might think.  Standards bodies have been hard at work, and we’ll have the results of several them presented at this workshop:  the W3C Open Annotation standard (Paolo Ciccarese) and recommendations of the data peer review consortium (Rebecca Lawrence).  Data are everywhere, not just at BtPDF2, but at the Research Data Alliance Plenary session occurring at the same time as BtPDF2.  NIH is searching for a new Director of Data Science.  The authori ID ORCID seems to be gaining some traction, and new journals, new models of peer review and new data repositories seem to be popping up all over.  New authoring platforms like Scalar (“born digital”) are becoming available.  Open Access is being openly debated and supported by funding agencies, institutional repositories and researchers.  Even I have started to blog and tweet. 

So are we done yet?  I would say no.  By and large, I would say, we still have failed to deliver tools and convincing use cases to the larger scholarly community, who are still locked in old modes of publishing and evaluation.  All one has to do to have one’s enthusiasm on the state of scholarly publication dampened is to sit on a promotion committee or a meeting of an editorial board.  Data:  where to put it, what to do with it, when to do it, and who will do it, still looms over everything.  The scholarly corpus in biomedical science is still fractionated, with no global access to the entire biomedical literature by automated agents.  The inefficiences of spending large amounts of time and money to turn complex research objects into digestible narratives and then an equally large amount of money trying to extract and recover the research objects from the narrative still need to be overcome.  And, as will be explored in the business case, we still haven’t figured out the model that will pay for it all.  But I am confident that change is a comin’ and I look forward to BtPDF2 as an incubator and catalyst for that change.  See you in Amsterdam!