It’s nice to be right sometimes…

I philosophize a lot about the role of journals and scientific publishing as part of the academic ecosystem – and especially how this ecosystem will change. Only last week my boss, Arjun, and I published a blog post (Results from the Guess the Impact Factor Challenge) analyzing how people perceive the of titles of scientific articles. But even back in 2015 I played around with predicting how the role of journals might shift. One of the predictions I made was that

…in The MacGyver age of content creation […], from pre-print servers (like BioRxiv) through science blogging and open lab notebooks, […] “legacy” journals as they exist today will become obsolete. […] Their role will change. So, taking a leaf from the media book, I predict that a key function of journals in the future will be to connect readers to relevant content published across the web.

Now it’s 2017 and Springer Nature just announced Recommended, “a new service which connects the research community with the most relevant content”.

It is definitely nice to be right sometimes 🙂

Looking forward, this also means that we should now be thinking about life after preprints: While in theory preprints could have a truly democratizing effect (anyone anywhere would be able to access papers without a paywall), in practice I’m not sure that potential will be realized. If people can’t trawl online content efficiently, they will rely on recommendation services, which – if in the wrong hands – may well introduce biases and favoritism. Thus, an effort to develop a fair (ideally mainly content/quality-driven) recommendation service hand-in-hand with the open access/preprint movement will be vital to create a healthy, balanced publishing landscape…

 

How free is Freedom of Speech in academia?

I’ve been hearing a lot about freedom of speech for scientists these last few weeks, inspired mainly by the efforts of the new US government to silence scientists and state employees, particularly on the topic of climate change. It’s been interesting: I’ve learned about what rights government employees have when it comes to freedom of speech, read some interesting comparisons with Canadian science (where government researchers were in a similar bind under the Harper administration, some good reads here and here), absolutely loved the “rogue” National Park Service twitter accounts and of course, I’m looking forward to the March For Science in April. I truly believe that Freedom of Speech should be a thing. Government agencies (or academic institutions in general) should not have the right to gag scientists based on idealogical or political interests.

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Speech by PineLife via flickr.

However, there’s this thing that’s been kind of bugging me: I remember the Tim Hunt scandal two years ago (in case you don’t remember, you can read more here and a follow-up from 6 months later) and the Jim Watson one before that, when everyone was up in arms that renown, Nobel-prize-winning, member-of-a-gazillion-scientific organisations-and-boards scientists should NOT be allowed to say certain things. Which makes me wonder: what exactly are the rules of free speech for scientists? Continue reading