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TWAS Newsletter
The Academy's quarterly magazine. Download PDF files of individual…

Change in scientific publishing

Change in scientific publishing

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have generally had a positive impact on science in the developing world. Yet, when it comes to science publications, long-standing challenges persist, and new challenges have surfaced due to the rapid spread of electronic information delivery systems.

Change in scientific publishingThat's the general conclusion of those participating in last year's TWAS-BioVision.Nxt Conference, cosponsored by TWAS and Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Discussions that took place there are outlined in the most recent issue of the TWAS Newsletter

ICTs, conference participants agreed, have helped increase access to scientific information and strengthened collaboration." New communication technologies, moreover, have played a key role in enhancing the scientific capacity of a growing number of developing countries. 

At the same time, recent trends in both science and scientific publishing have often intensified the pressure that scientists face to publish in prestigious journals. 

Science, after all, has become even more international, thanks in part to the spread of ICTs. And, the growing number of publications, which ICTs help to make possible, place an even higher premium on journals with a proven track record of excellence and a high level of visibility. It's the one sure way to distinguish yourself from your colleagues.

So, how have scientists, scientific publishers and research institutions responded to the rapidly changing publishing environment in which they operate? 

Several large-scale projects have been launched to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunities for the rapid, cost-effective distribution of information that is afforded by ICTs. 

For example, there is the Public Library of Science (PLoS), the world's most visible open-access venture launched by the US Institutes of Health in 2000. Today, studies indicate that more than 10% of all peer-reviewed scientific journals follow the open-access paradigm and that 20% of all peer-reviewed articles in all disciplines are freely available online (many following a delay of six months to a year).

There is the Research4Life initiative, a joint venture operated of a number of private-sector publishers, international organizations and universities that provides no- and low-cost access to scientific publications in health, agriculture and the environment. 

There is the work of INASP (the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications), a UK-based organization that is engaged in a series of capacity building programmes that are designed to help scientists gain both access to and publish in peer-reviewed journals. 

The advent of ICTs, as many participants in the conference noted, has not only accelerated the pace at which information is disseminated; it has also changed the way in which information is assembled and, in fact, how research is done. For instance, it has placed a greater emphasis both on team-research and multiple-author articles, and it has encouraged the distribution of preliminary research results for comment and subsequent revision.

Yet, despite the unprecedented changes unfolding in the world of scientific publication, participants also agreed that several long-standing factors would likely continue to stand the test of time. Among these factors are: publishing in prominent peer-reviewed journals would remain the key to success for academics and researchers, English would be the universal language of science, and quality scientific information would stay a labour-intensive exercise requiring not only research expertise but also good writing and editorial skills.

In short, participants agreed that quality, impact and cost would continue to be at the centre of the scientific publishing enterprise even as the means of communication undergoes its most wrenching changes since the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.


Find the full TWAS Newsletter article below.