Is the future of research communication the same for sciences and the humanities?

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I have to admit that my opinions of the future of research communications and e-scholarship are dominated by biomedical science, not surprising as I am a neuroscientist by trade.   However, despite my occasional slips to the contrary, FORCE11 is for advancing scholarly communication, not scientific communication exclusively.   As FORCE11 is for everyone,  I’ve been reaching out to scholars in the humanities and library sciences, to let them know about FORCE11 and to find out their views about what is needed to move scholarly communication into the future.  A few weeks ago (yes, I procrastinate), I had a very nice conversation with Tara McPherson, an associate professor in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, and the head of the extremely cool Scalar project through the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture.   Scalar is a semantic-web authoring tool that allows provides a platform for constructing multimedia, enhanced communications.   Although developed for the humanities community, projects like Scalar could just have easily been developed for science.  Particularly in the area of multimedia, science should be looking to the humanities community, who not only communicate about their works via new technologies, but in some cases actually create their work within these technologies.  Thus, it is not surprising that some of the most creative uses of the new medium are driven by the humanities community.  In our conversation, it was clear that there were places where the problems were identical, e.g., annotation, structuring of content,  sustainability models in the face of rising costs of publication. But it was also clear that priorities differ across disciplines.  In the biomedical sciences, most discussion around scientific communication focuses on the journal article, as that is generally the only medium which counts towards most forms of advancement.  Issues of sustainability therefore focus on the high subscription fees charged by scientific publishers who control the most high impact journals.  In contrast, the humanities community publishes significant works via books as well, largely through University Presses.   Open access to journal articles is a rallying cry within some of the scientific community, but less so in the humanities.  Drivers for open access in science center around free access to information that might impact human health and, increasingly, because fragments of scientific knowledge are scattered around the millions of papers that are published, and we need electronic means to mine and integrate these data.  But access to data is a problem across both communities.  In the case of science, most data on which research reports are based is not available in the public domain through a recognized repository.  However, the majority of that data is digital,  whereas in the humanities (and in some science fields like anthropology), many of the research objects are physical, e.g., paintings and sculptures.  Reproduction of these works in the digital domain is not allowed in many cases, or is covered by copyright that restricts the production of scholarly works.   I was speaking with a gentleman from a University Press at a recent conference, and he confirmed this was a major problem.  He said that if permission can’t be granted for both print and digital, then the content must be removed from both media, as Amazon and other publishers won’t allow the electronic version to be different from the print version.  So much to learn!  We hope that FORCE11 will be a place where these issues can be explored, and the two communities can benefit from rich cross-fertilization.


About Maryann Martone

A short biography:

I received my BA from Wellesley College in biological psychology and my Ph. D. in neuroscience in 1990 from the University of California, San Diego, where I am currently a Professor in the Department of Neuroscience. My background is in neuroanatomy, particularly light and electron microscopy, but I spend most of my... More

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Eric Edsinger: In many ways, Nature's interface/suite of features for ENCODE is at the cutting edge of scientific publication - and includes features similar to what Scalar will offer for the humanities. So I'd say the presentation of data/subjects/ideas is not so different at higher levels.

I'm excited to see how approaches to research and data will change as things move forward and user-friendly tools for media integration/presentation become increasingly powerful and accessible.

JCachat: Thank you for your comment - I had a look at Nature's implementation of ENCODE [http://www.nature.com/encode/#/threads] and agree with your sentiment. In fact, that Nature's ENCODE reminded me of was the infographics found in the New York Times, as well as all the great interactive graphics found on visual analytics blogs like http://visualizing.org/.

In many ways these /ARE/ the implementation of the leading each of IT and communication of ideas in social sciences and humanities - actually thinking about it I would say that "the other culture" has actually been doing these things for much longer than natural scientists would like to admit.

Another issue to consider.  As was apparent from the discussions of business models at the Beyond the PDF2 conference, the prices currently charged for author pays open access in the sciences, often up to 3K per article, are out of reach for many in the humanities and in developing countries.