The future of science publishing from 1996

Floating by in the Twitter stream, this from @leonidkruglyak. It leads to a light-hearted opinion(ated) piece by Sydney Brenner in Current Biology, 1996.

In 1996, you may recall, the Web was just a few years old. Amusingly (sadly?), it seems that Brenner predicted many of the topics in science publishing that we’re still discussing in 2013. It’s just that he thought they would be implemented in no time at all.

For example, open refereeing:

It is incidents such as this that have led me to question whether the anonymity of referees needs to be guarded so closely

Self-publishing/archiving and post-publication peer review:

The electronic pre-print with open discussion (not refereeing) will soon become commonplace; in fact, labs could go into the publication business by themselves

Demise of the journal impact factor, publishing economics and altmetrics:

We will need something to substitute for the present ratings given to papers appearing in ‘superior, peer-reviewed publications’ (and commercial publishers will find ways of making people pay for this)

Perhaps we should have a readership index; it should not be beyond the wit of man to devise a way of recording whenever a paper is read, hard-copied or cited

As Ethan said:

3 thoughts on “The future of science publishing from 1996

  1. Jonathan Badger

    The physicists do seem to have gone the pre-print/open discussion route with their arXiv — to the extent that physics journals are practically irrelevant these days, even if the idea seems hopelessly utopian from the biology perspective. I’m not sure exactly why other than the fact that maybe experiments are easier to fudge than mathematical proofs and so the prior peer review is seen as more essential?

    A darker side to the electronic revolution is that in many journals the papers published before the mid1990s were never digitized — meaning that they are rarely read these days — I’m of the last generation of scientists who remembers having to go to an actual library to look up papers in bound journal volumes — who does that any more?

    1. nsaunders Post author

      I have not physically entered a library building for years…but like you, I recall when Friday afternoons were set aside to sit in a comfy chair in the library and browse the latest issues of journals of interest – anything with “Biochemistry” in the title, in my case. I do confess a slight nostalgia for those days.

      We need Google to do for those old journals what they are doing for books, but imagine the copyright negotiations with publishers…

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