#scholrev: #BTPDF2, FORCE11, Current position and ways forward

I’m blogging some of my ideas about the Scholarly Revolution (#scholrev) and how it should proceed. I’ve already said I think it should be decentralised and I’ll explain what that means and why. I’m going to concentrate on the underlying social and political aspects – the technologies will follow. But first I am recapping where it started.

To recap, we gathered for an ad hoc meeting at Beyond the PDF 2 at lunchtime on Wednesday (2013-03-20) and we’ve been blogging and tweeting since then. #scholrev would not have happened without the wider meeting which Maryanne Martone has described at http://www.force11.org/node/4326 .

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. 

PMR: Agreed. I was at BTPDF1 and felt it was transformative and exciting. I wasn’t at Dagstuhl so I can’t comment on the atmosphere. But yes, I hoped that something would come from BTPDF1 and looked for it in BTPDF2.

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.  … Open Access is being openly debated and supported by funding agencies, institutional repositories and researchers. 

PMR: I was particularly concerned about authors at BTPDF1 and the way they are treated in the current system. They have no effective voice and are largely pawns in any debate of #openaccess (and there is little constructive debate). The authors should be a major part of new communications, as should the readers and both groups have been marginalised. Personally I feel no excitement for the current approaches (“Green” and “Gold”) which both allow injustice, vested interests and massive waste to continue.

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. 

And that’s the problem. Put simply, while rich (Northern) academics debate evaluation, publications are still locked by piublishers.

And lack of publications mean people die. I’ve said that before and Eve Gray said it very clearly at the meeting. The first three presentations at BTPDF2 addressed the inequities, but the meeting slipped into cosy introspection during the rest. The meeting should have been angry at injustice. It wasn’t.

Data:  where to put it, what to do with it, when to do it, and who will do it, still looms over everything. 

YES. And unless we do something different we’ll end up with the same mistakes – data publication controlled by vested interests. (Some weeks ago a librarian came to me and said: “Isn’t it wonderful, we can now buy a data citation index”. I screamed).

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. 

Biomedical science would be automated if it was legally allowed by the publishers (I sit on EuropePMC and we could index the whole literature technically.) Get angry, for goodness sake!

But I am confident that change is a comin’ and I look forward to BtPDF2 as an incubator and catalyst for that change. 

I looked for fundamental changes at BTPDF2 and I didn’t see them. A great deal of incremental stuff about how we could tinker with the current system. Very little about its fundamental sickness. About how we could revise the scholarly monograph (i.e. books) – we had a good lead on that but no follow-up. Well the world is reinventing the book and academics don’t seem to realise that books are for reading, not primarily for generating an ivory tower reputation.

Which is why we so rapidly gathered a group under the banner of “Scholarly Revolution”. I don’t know whether BTPDF2 will generate revolution, but it’s got to start doing it soon or not at all. It needs to tap into the twenty-first century and here are some ideas:

  • Make change, don’t just talk about it. I’m now so used to hackathons that I find 2 days sitting and listening to people talking makes my fingers twitchy. I and others said that next time there must be a hackathon where we create something new.
  • Bring in the outside world and listen to them. Academia is behind the times, not in front of it. At our hackdays we get journalists, medics, banks, creatives, central and local government and much more. They’re not hung-up about impact factors – they want to see information developed into communal knowledge. Tools that promote democracy. New ways of working.
  • Trust the young. The new world is a young world, not a continuation of the existing one. I was pleased to see special representation of young people and I hope they are brave enough to say what they want.
  • Fight injustice. The current system is seriously unjust – to the world.

I’m grateful to #BTPDF2 organizers for the meeting. Maryanne has rightly asked that we link to http://force11.org. and they have highlighted #scholrev. . I’m very happy for FORCE11 to provide resources for #scholrev. But they will only keep connected if they each tap into the other’s social and political dynamics.