How do you get to Cambridge? Well I wouldn’t start from here.

Fiona Murphy sums up APE 2016

I attended this year’s APE conference in Berlin on behalf of a project I’m working on for Jisc, the Jisc Publications Router, so I wanted to catch up with vendors, publishers and members of the STM community face to face, and give them a quick overview of the project.

Also, I have an interest in research data and publication, including work with the Research Data Alliance and so I was very interested to hear from well-known thinkers in STM. The keynote speakers this year were really fantastic mind-jangling stuff.

The Jisc Publications Router System is currently being developed to support institutions in their open access objectives including their compliance with the policies of various research funders, notably the policy on open access and the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK. It’s scholar-orientated: looking to gather metadata about journal articles at the point of acceptance, and then at publication point. After this the system will allow the manuscript to be lodged with the institutional repository. The key is that it will show information on papers where there is any author at all associated with a UK institution, as opposed to being organised by the corresponding author or by the funder. And depending on the quality of metadata received, the system will also provide the institutions with information on embargo periods and licensing requirements.

What emerged for me at APE was how this initiative reflects the bigger European Open Access Design. One of the presenters was Stephan Kuster from Science Europe, which is an organisation that advises on and co-ordinates research policy across the EU countries, and it emerged during his talk that much of the Router is looking to achieve is also coherent with Science Europe’s objectives.

Taking the overall tone of the meeting, it seems to me the whole publishing industry really is trying to change. Comparatively ‘new’ topics predominated: recognition for reviewers, data publishing, automating, building services and tools and enabling communication across various siloes.  There was a general sense that having advanced to the current point, technology now needs to be refined to become truly transformative.  ‘From noise to collective intelligence’ was a fantastic phrase used by Emma Green of Zapnito. She was referring directly to her company’s mission around building clean, frictionless links between experts and the people who need their expertise. But really this could have been the motto for conference writ large.

At the same time, there’s clear pressure on the bigger companies to adapt. Open web communities, open source software, sharing all of these are potential challenges to the traditional subscriptions journal business model. I don’t believe they’re insuperable, and there are some impressive people working on adaptation initiatives  at the conference Alicia Wise of Elsevier and Todd Toler of Wiley for instance. However, the journals publishing landscape is littered with so many add-ons and bolt-ons and mishmashes of technology and processes, which at each stage in the last 20 years made sense as a response to the situation of the time, that the industry’s technical, cultural and social resources are really very stretched.

And in the midst of this, new questions are being asked. What is a research output? Whose responsibility is it to look after the digital record, the metrics and data around the articles, the links between? Open access is the new reality for some at least, but there’s a huge lack of agreement on where we’ll be in twenty years’ time. Different communities are evolving at vastly varying rates, according to discipline, resources, cultural influences, and so forth.

Finally, to bring the speculation back to earth, the salient point was made: the scholarly establishment (the real decision-making population within the institutions) still wants to see articles published in highly cited journals. No matter how much researchers and authors talk about Altmetrics, immediacy and datasets, ultimately the shots are still being called by people for whom Impact Factor is really key.

It’s no news that scholarly publishing is still in an era of change. And despite the best endeavours of many of us, I suspect the noise levels are going to get louder before they subside.

Author: Fiona Murphy