The Journal des Sçavans and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London were first published 350 years ago (1665!) in France and England. Both publications were founded with the  intent to advance scientific knowledge by building on colleagues’ results and avoid duplication of results. Thus commenced the principles of scientific priority and peer review. Prior to these publications, scholarly communication transpired via written correspondence, society meetings, and books.  With this new publishing model, the scholarly journal allowed for a structured format and process to provide broad dissemination of knowledge combined with systematic recording and archiving of scientific findings and knowledge. 

Recent media coverage and even scientific articles debate the future of scholarly publication models and the publishers behind them. Wired recently published an article, The Web Will Either Kill Science Journals or Save Them. The Wired article is based on the paper published in PLOS ONE: The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Age.  Both articles provide an interesting read. This post is not intended to take a stance on best approach or practices to publish science but rather to look deeper at the core objectives related to scholarly publishing---dissemination of knowledge and long-term archiving of that knowledge. 

It's easy to say that "everyone can be a publisher in the digital age." And indeed open systems can be viewed as democratizing content but there are still costs and work involved if the core objectives of dissemination and archiving are to be achieved. People and systems need to ensure proper content architecture and applicable metadata that support distribution and archiving. Digital does not equal free. As print runs decline for scholarly journals, online distribution increases. The costs associated with online are often overlooked from a macro industry view. Somewhere a server needs to host that content and content is only useful if it can be searched and found. The devil in those details is complex and real business decisions and questions of economy come into play. Can we rely on crowd sourcing to truly vet science? Can a global supply of authors apply metadata and key terms that speak to broad international readers and researchers? Are systems "smart enough" to support content structure that ensures dissemination across content platforms? 

Time will tell. 

So while we sit back and toast the scholarly publishing community---its authors, publishers, researchers, reviewers, editors, and readers---on 350 years of profound change, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on whether the Internet will "kill science journals or save them."


AuthorMike Groth