The Internet is a mixed blessing for scientists who wish to share their research. On one hand, it's easy to access others' ideas and disseminate your own. On the other, many demand that the information be cheap or free, which makes it increasingly harder for journals to earn sufficient revenue based on subscriptions alone. Researchers and publishers are banding together to discuss solutions to the revenue problem and ways scientists can better share their knowledge. Some are exploring new journal business models that tinker with traditional ideas about who's willing to pay for what. Others are looking into new Web-based journals and Web sites that encourage scientist participation and communication.
There's a delicate balance to be struck between making scientific information accessible and useful while also being economically feasible and upholding scientific integrity with new electronic forms of communication, said APA Chief Executive Officer Norman B. Anderson, PhD, at APA's Fourth Annual Science Leadership Conference (SciLC), in Tempe, Ariz., Oct. 2–4. The SciLCs are sponsored by the Board of Scientific Affairs and Science Directorate. This year the Publications and Databases offices also collaborated in planning the conference.
This year's conference centered on innovations in knowledge dissemination. APA invited more than 120 scientists, publishers, librarians and educators from across the country—18 of whom gave presentations—to talk about their own experiences with sharing information.
APA President Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, said that psychology, as a "hub discipline" that unites several different strands of science including medicine, biology and neuroscience, needs to work with publishers and other scientists to develop the solutions that will allow psychology and its related fields to share their knowledge more effectively.
Journals in a world gone digital
"Open access" has become the mantra of the Internet Age. Broadly defined, it means that many people, scientists included, expect their scholarly information to be immediately available online and, above all, free.
The problem, of course, is that operating a journal costs money. Print journals have paper and mailing costs. Online journals require bandwidth. Traditionally, these costs have been covered by subscription fees, advertising and sponsorship by scientific societies.
But as more and more journals go online, people are less and less willing to pay for the content, said Michael Mabe, chief executive officer of the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, at APA's 2008 Science Leadership Conference. In fact, the availability of so much ostensibly free information on the Web seems to make people think all information should be free.
"Digital is different," Mabe said. "'e equals free,' 'yours is mine,' 'public funding equals public access'—these are very potent slogans."
The growing demand for open access is forcing Mabe and other publishers to look for novel solutions. One is to embargo information for a set amount of time before it becomes freely available.
Providing open access a few months after publication could placate people who aren't willing to pay for or are not able to afford subscriptions. Some journals have tried to incorporate this model, he said, but so far the results have been mixed. Mabe thinks part of the problem is that no one has really looked at which kinds of embargos work best.
"They've just sort of said, 'Let's make it three months,' or, 'Let's make it six months,' but it's all been largely arbitrary," Mabe said.
To put some numbers behind the concept, Mabe and other publishers have established the Publishing and Ecology of European Research, or PEER, project. In it, they'll be studying how different embargo times affect journals' business models and people's access habits. Their goal is to balance journals' revenue needs with the public's growing demand for open access.
Another approach came from Yale University linguist Stephen Anderson, PhD, of the executive committee for the Linguistic Society of America. The society publishes Language, a journal with diminishing revenue due to competition from other journals and flagging subscriptions.
To combat this, last year the society introduced eLanguage (www.elanguage.net), an online complement to its flagship journal to provide an outlet for the disparate voices in linguistics research that can't all be covered in a general journal. With eLanguage, researchers can set up their own specialized journals to cover whatever topics they want. In effect, they become editors, responsible for soliciting articles and for the peer-review process. Then, if that line of research eventually runs out of new and interesting ideas, the journal can simply dissolve.
It's still too early to know whether eLanguage will succeed, Anderson said, but he's hopeful.
With the Internet age rapidly ushering in new communications outposts including YouTube, blogs and Web forums, researchers are looking into how science can benefit from similar services. Several innovators discussed their own developments at APA's 2008 Science Leadership Conference.
Philip Bourne, PhD, a pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences professor at the University of California, San Diego, created SciVee (www.scivee.tv), a Web site dedicated to giving scientists a place to put up videos of themselves explaining their work. Bourne calls these videos "pubcasts."
Scientists usually use them to explain their research in ways that just aren't feasible within a traditional journal. In one pubcast, Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, sits at her desk and explains the relationship between glucose and performance on cognitive tasks. Her research paper is also displayed on the page, so SciVee visitors can follow along with the scientific literature. The addition of simplified explanations allows for an easier point of entry into the research, Bourne said.
Moshe Pritsker, PhD, editor of the Journal of Visualized Experiments (www.jove.com), is working on a similar project. He wants to provide a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal where scientists can give videotaped demonstrations of their research to help other scientists replicate experiments, such as infant behavioral experiments with complicated procedures or animal experiments that involve designing specific environments.
Meanwhile, Hakon Heimer, editor of the Schizophrenia Research Forum (www.schizophreniaforum.org), promotes online discussion among scientists. His free Web forum has 2,500 registered members, mostly psychologists, psychiatrists and neuroscientists. His staff solicits commentary by posting bulletins on breaking schizophrenia research and letting members analyze the research as a group.
Sometimes the dialogue gets quite spirited, Heimer said, but more often than not it results in thoughtful, insightful discussion.
Staying on tenure track
The influx of new technology allows for unprecedented information sharing. But are all forms of communication equal?
That was the question being asked by junior faculty members at APA's 2008 Science Leadership Conference who wondered whether the new models of communication would earn them the same respect as more traditional models.
"I run a blog that I don't even tell my university about," said Richard Pak, PhD, an assistant professor in psychology at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., who says he fears others in his department would view his blog as frivolous.
His Web site, Human Factors Blog (www.humanfactorsblog.org), covers developments in and news about applied cognitive psychology.
Alexandra Logue, PhD, provost at the City University of New York, acknowledged the problem.
"Blogging is difficult because, in some ways, it's like scholarship," she said. "But it's difficult to really gauge its impact. It's not currently archived in the same way as other forms of scholarship."
Her advice, echoed by other presenters, was for junior faculty to stick to the tried-and-true method of obtaining tenure: publishing in high-impact journals. At some point, the presenters said, newer forms of communication could gain the prestige of traditional journals, but until that point, it's better to play it safe.
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