August 2007
The Coming Revolution in Scholarly Communications & Cyberinfrastructure
Lee Dirks, Microsoft Corporation
Tony Hey, Microsoft Corporation


By now, it is a well-observed fact that scholarly communication is in the midst of tremendous upheaval. That is as exciting to many as it is terrifying to others. What is less obvious is exactly what this dramatic change will mean for the academic world – specifically what influence it will have on the research community – and the advancement of science overall. In an effort to better grasp the trends and the potential impact in these areas, we’ve assembled an impressive constellation of top names in the field – as well as some new, important voices – and asked them to address the key issues for the future of scholarly communications resulting from the intersecting concepts of cyberinfrastructure, scientific research, and Open Access. All of the hallmarks of sea-change are apparent: attitudes are changing, roles are adjusting, business models are shifting – but, perhaps most significantly, individual and collective behaviors are very slow to evolve – far slower than expected. That said, each of the authors in this CTWatch Quarterly issue puts forward a variety of visions and approaches, some practical considerations, and in several cases, specific prototypes or break-through projects already underway to help point the way.

Leading off is Clifford Lynch’s excellent overview (“The Shape of the Scientific Article in the Developing Cyberinfrastructure”) – an outstanding entry point to the broad range of issues raised by the reality of cyberinfrastructure and the impact it will have on scientific publishing in the near-term. His paper is an effective preview to the fundamental shift of how scholarly communication will work, namely how the role of the author is changing in a Web 2.0 environment. A core element in this new world is the growing potential benefit for inclusion of data in submissions (or links to data sets). Lynch thoughtfully addresses the many implications arising in this new paradigm (e.g., papers + data) – and how policies and behaviors will need to adapt – most especially the impact this will have on the concept of peer review. He astutely raises the issue of the importance of software/middleware in this new ecosystem – namely in the areas of viewing/reading and visualization. This is a critical point for accurate dissemination to facilitate further research – and is also integral to discoverability as well as the ability to aggregate across multiple articles.

In his piece, “Next-Generation Implications of Open Access,” Paul Ginsparg provides an invaluable perspective on the current state of affairs – a “long view” – as one of the originators of the Open Access movement. Having in essence invented the Open Access central repository when he launched arXiv.org in 1991, Ginsparg’s brief retrospective and forward-looking assessment of this space is a useful look at the features and functionality that open repositories must consider to stay relevant and to add value in this changing environment. Indeed, it is a testament that arXiv.org has been able to remain true to its original tenets of remaining low-cost, selective, and complementary/supplemental to other publishers or repositories. However, Ginsparg’s treatment hints at several new directions and areas for enhancement/improvement relating to the issues of (a) storage and access of documents/articles at scale, (b) the social networking implications for large-scale repositories as well as (c) a discourse on how to handle compound objects, data and other related supporting documentation. Also insightful are Ginsparg’s musings of the economics of Open Access, and he surfaces the important theme highlighted by several of the authors in this issue—the notion that a generational shift is required to enable the necessary behavioral change, and the recognition that our field(s) may not progress until this reality is brought about.

Timo Hannay’s extremely useful survey of the Web 2.0 landscape is an especially valuable landscape map. In this environmental scan, Hannay takes a snapshot of the current state-of-the-art and provides not only definitions but also definitive examples/applications that demonstrate the reality, the potential, and the remaining hurdles faced by the social-networking phenomenon. Now that we’ve finally begun to realize the power and potential that had been promised us with the “web-as-platform” – we’re also understanding the many benefits and the driving-force of the network effect: the more who participate, the richer the experience. (Yet, Hannay also points out the cruel truth that the scientific community has been miserably late to the game, when it should have been first – considering the Internet was initially constructed to facilitate the sharing of scientific data.) As exciting as it might be at this point in time, a core tenet of this article is to point out that – as a community – we have yet to realize the full potential of Web 2.0, as we are still so very early in the initial phase. Considering the very medium we are using changes/alters the methods we employ, Hannay stresses that is “impossible to predict” the future, but the hints he provides promise us a very exciting journey.

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Reference this article
Dirks, L., Hey, T. "Introduction," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 3, August 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/08/introduction/

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