Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Beyond the Beyond: Can we Increase the Impact and Reach of Scholarly Research? - The Scholarly Kitchen


Beyond the Beyond: Can we Increase the Impact and Reach of Scholarly Research?

Editor’s Note: “This post is co-authored by the editors of the Learned Publishing journal, Pippa Smart, Editor-in-Chief, and Lettie Conrad, North American Editor.

Occasionally, the Learned Publishing editorial team enjoys
browsing our archives and reflecting on the changing anxieties,
strategies, and values within our community over the years. One hot
topic among authors in the last decade is the increasing pressure to
reach beyond the traditional confines of journals and faculty tenure

Stakeholders want to see measurable returns on their investments. Voters want to see taxes put to collective good. Vicky Williams
noted last year, “with increasing funder mandates for research to
demonstrate broader impact – on society, policy, the economy, or the
environment – research has to reach a broader audience.”


Granting bodies are anxious to drive improvements in health and
prosperity through research, therefore are less tolerant when research
outcomes do not demonstrate high readership and other impact metrics.
Earlier this year, David Sommer noted
studies claiming that half of all published articles are never read and
even more than that are never cited – which would mean an even smaller
fraction making their way into the hands of policymakers, innovators,
and the voting public. John Dove
notes that the uneven distribution of openly available content across
the myriad relevant search and discovery platforms calls for a more
active, innovative publisher role in ensuring the success of OA and
funded works.

Learned Publishing authors have demonstrated the measurable benefits of including lay summaries of open access (OA) articles alongside traditional abstracts and promotion of scientific publications to the mainstream press.
However, these techniques are new tricks for many publishers to
integrate into legacy marketing and content workflows. We are under
pressure to master new tools, new partnerships, and new information
channels to push publications beyond the “ivory tower” – and often
outside our comfort zones. Although there are many experiments and
innovative models being tested and run (e.g., BMC Psychology reviewing methodology rather than results to avoid bias against negative findings) these remain a minority, and it is hard to know how much effect they have on global impact.

Global readers expect access to knowledge and discoveries that impact
our wider society, and the logistics of this broader dissemination and
public communication are often left to publishers. The “lay summary” has
become somewhat of a buzzword for the past couple of years, but the
idea of rewriting scholarly papers for non-specialists in the general
public is a challenge on several points. For authors, it can be seen as
an insult or a waste of time. For publishers, it represents an
additional amount of work and resource expense, in publishing staff
energy and time, to undertake on behalf of authors. Promoting published
science is seen by many authors as the responsibility of the publisher;
conversely, publishers see this promotion as, at least in part, the
responsibility of the author. And both often look to information
channels, such as academic and public libraries, as the primary conduit
for scientific dissemination.

The flip side of this discovery question is a matter of the diversity
within our publications. We like to think of ourselves as a global
industry, representing and contributing to global scientific research –
but in truth, how global are we really? And what are the problems with
globalization when it comes to publishing and disseminating knowledge?
Editors and publishers are balancing the tension between being
gatekeepers (only publishing the “best” research) and knowledge
facilitators (providing access to a broader range of knowledge that may
only appear immediately relevant to niche audiences). This drive to
publish only the best works risks editorial, reviewer, and publisher
biases, leading to exclusion of potentially important research,
and a disenfranchisement of authors from developing countries who feel
that their research is unlikely to be published in western journals,
turning to alternative outlets — including “predatory” journals, as
noted by Williams Nwagwu a few years ago.

These forces are creating conflict around the traditional concept of
the scholarly record, which no longer satisfies funder mandates for
broad distribution to wide and diverse audiences. Disconnects between
funder objectives and researcher or author goals deepen this divide,
often challenging universities and publishers to bridge the gaps. These
pressures demand more than isolated process changes, but instead a more
holistic mind-set shift that embraces innovation in business models
and collaboration beyond traditional institutions. Changing the process
requires involvement of all stakeholders and the tensions between
different “factions” are not helping to address the diverse needs.

While each group individually considers itself to be embracing new
models, we each have our inherent conservatism to address – not least of
which lies within academia. In their year-one report from their 3-year
longitudinal study, David Nicholas and his CIBER team
observed that early career researchers (ECRs) universally agree that
gold OA is a worthy enterprise – but they still cling to the established
norms (including the elite high-Impact Factor, and traditional journal
outlets) because their academic reward is so tightly tied to these.

Around the world, the obsession with the Impact Factor and the
pressure that is being placed on researchers to publish within these
elitist journals serves to undermine national journals,
thus closing down dissemination channels for local research and
constraining both academic and funder desires to ensure outreach to
diverse communities. This conservative attitude to trustworthiness in the research process
can further stymie communications and impact globally. This is surely a
greater problem than the over-simplistic focus on Open-versus-closed
access. Around the world “open” online access is common, and a study
from De Gruyter this year shows that OA resources are key for authors in “periphery countries” who are both more likely to use OA resources and are also more likely to publish in them.

In a “post-truth” world with declining faith in scientific progress,
publishers are beholden to play a leading role in the clear
communication and promotion of scholarly research, and contributors to Learned Publishing
have frequently questioned these trends and proposed possible
solutions. These forces are a natural stage in the evolution of
scholarship and academic publishing – but is the world too large to
allow us to tackle this problem in more than a nationalistic

More on this topic is discussed by the Learned Publishing team in a new white paper, “The Reach & Impact of Research Articles Beyond the Academy”.

Lettie Y. Conrad

Lettie Y. Conrad

Lettie Y. Conrad is a
publishing and product development consultant, working as a senior
associate with Maverick Publishing Specialists, as well as with a
portfolio of independent global clients. When she's not bringing a
user-centered approach to scholarly content discovery and accessibility,
Lettie serves as North American Editor for Learned Publishing and is a
part-time information science doctoral student via a remote program at
Queensland University of Technology.
View All Posts by Lettie Y. Conrad


5 Thoughts on "Beyond the Beyond: Can we Increase the Impact and Reach of Scholarly Research?"

The fact that the average monograph published by a
university press now sells fewer than 300 copies worldwide, and most of
those to academic libraries, should tell us something about how many
members of the general public really are interested in specialized
scholarly knowledge.

I wonder how how many downloads these monographs
would obtain if they were made available in open access format and
actively promoted to the general public.

Do we have any recent studies that show that currently half of papers are never read other than by authors and reviewers?

That’s a very strong claim and should only be made using data from our times, not before digital libraries became prevalent.

Thank you, Mary, great point — As discussed here,
Pippa and I are reflecting on studies that either appear or are cited
in the Learned Publishing journal. Specifically, I had studies cited in
this piece by David Sommer from earlier this year, We can update the post to cite this claim more specifically, thanks for your comment!

Beyond the Beyond: Can we Increase the Impact and Reach of Scholarly Research? - The Scholarly Kitchen

The "Paper" of the Future - Authorea


    The "Paper" of the Future

    Authorea preprint 02/21/2017 DOI: 10.22541/au.148769949.92783646
    A 5-minute video demonstration of this paper is available at this YouTube link.


    A variety of research on human cognition demonstrates that humans learn and communicate best when more than one processing system (e.g. visual, auditory, touch) is used. And, related research also shows that, no matter how technical the material, most humans also retain and process information best when they can put a narrative "story" to it. So, when considering the future of scholarly communication, we should be careful not to do blithely away with the linear narrative format that articles and books have followed for centuries: instead, we should enrich it.
    Much more than text is used to commuicate in Science. Figures, which include images, diagrams, graphs, charts, and more, have enriched scholarly articles since the time of Galileo, and ever-growing volumes of data underpin most scientific papers. When scientists communicate face-to-face, as in talks or small discussions, these figures are often the focus of the conversation. In the best discussions, scientists have the ability to manipulate the figures, and to access underlying data, in real-time, so as to test out various what-if scenarios, and to explain findings more clearly. This short article explains—and shows with demonstrations—how scholarly "papers" can morph into long-lasting rich records of scientific discourse, enriched with deep data and code linkages, interactive figures, audio, video, and commenting.
    The Paper of the Future should include seamless linkages amongst data, pictures, and language, where "language" includes both words and math. When an individual attempts to understand each of these kinds of information, different cognitive functions are utilized: communication is inefficient if the channel is restricted primarily to language, without easy interconnection to data and pictures.

    Collaborative Authoring

    This article has been written using the Authorea collaborative online authoring platform. Authorea is one of a growing number of services that allow authors, especially in the Sciences, to move collaborative writing from a system of emailing drafts created in desktop software (like LaTeX editors or Microsoft Word) amongst co-authors and editors to online, real-time, collaborative, platforms.
    Most scholars today are very familiar with simple collaborative writing tools like Google Docs. Authorea and its ilk can be thought of as more sophisticated versions of Google Docs, in that they include the ability to include equations, figures, limited interactivity, and that they offer better version control. Table 1, below, compares key features of several collaborative technical writing platforms, including Authorea, writeLaTeX, and shareLaTeX, along with two more general purpose platforms, Google Docs and Microsoft Word.

    ShareLatex Authorea Overleaf (WriteLaTeX) Google Docs Microsoft Word
    Version Control full (internal) full (git) full (internal) full (Google) None
    Simultaneous Editing full by section full full Sharepoint
    Offline Editing Dropbox browser/git browser/git Google Drive native
    Ease of Use ★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★
    Math Support Latex Latex / others Latex Limited GUI GUI
    Output Formats PDF PDF, HTML PDF PDF Word, PDF
    Commenting Latex By section or text todonotes.sty By section Track Changes
    Citations bibtex integrated bibtex in add-ons integrated
    Interactivity movie15.sty full javascript movie15.sty in add-ons None?

    Linking Data

    Traditionally, the only citations within scholarly writing are to other scholarly writing. In some Journals today, URLs are allowed as footnotes, but not typically as full-fledged citations on-par with journal articles. This is for good reason. URLs are notoriously ephemeral, and URLs pointing to data have half-lives of less than a decade (Pepe 2014).
    A great deal of public scholarly worrying (and writing) about how to offer robust, long-lived, links to data has gone on over especially the past decade (see Goodman et al. (2014), and references therein). Instead of reviewing the concomitant literature, we here offer just the following practical advice. If a dataset can be assigned a long-term identifier that moves with data as it moves from one computer system to another, then such an identifier should be sought, and it should be cited in scholarly articles. One modern version of such "persistent" identifiers are "DOIs" which use the so-called "Handle" system. Details on how this system works are here:
    There are currently several systems that will issue DOIs when data are uploaded to a repository, including Zenodo, figshare, and The Dataverse. Each system presently has different various advantages and disadvantages, concerning ease-of-use, richness of metadata, and formats accepted. Authors and publishers can, and should, use any service that issues a robust DOI for a data set, so that it can be included as a so-called "first class" reference (like citing a Journal Article) in scholarly writing. Any modern scientific publication should adjust its practices to accept these DOIs as references, and it should encourage authors to seek these DOIs.
    Homepage of the Astronomy Dataverse at Harvard, which accepts, and automatically extracts metadata from, a wide variety of file formats, including the Astronomical standard known as "FITS".
    Screen shot of Zenodo page for "Galileo's New Order," a WorldWide Telescope Tour file, showing that essentially any file format can be assigned a DOI. The DOI link for this entry is (Goodman 2013).

    Offering Access to Code

    In modern research articles, a paper is often linked to swaths of computer code that output both numerical conclusions in the paper (e. g. parameter estimates and errors) and associated figures. Since reproducibility is a bedrock principle of the scientific method, easy access to underpinning code is crucial part of future publications.

    4.1 Links to Software Programs

    By combining tools discussed elsewhere in this document, once can "mint" digital object identifiers that point to a particular version of software, assuming it is stored in an organized repository. One example is given here:, on a web page that shows how to mint a citable DOI for code using the GitHub and Zenodo services together. Alternatively, in a model more directly akin the way one currently publishes a paper, services like the Astrophysics Source Code Library (ASCL) allow authors to publish a static version of a program, and to assign that version an identifier. At present, The ASCL is indexed by the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS) and is citable by using the unique ascl ID assigned to each program.

    4.2 Executable Figures

    iPython Notebooks offer a nice modern example of how published figures can be made "executable." These notebooks act as code that can be annotated and executed on the web, allowing an interested reader to study and even modify a copy of the underpinning code, without contacting the authors or initiating a long investigation. the dust map of Ophiuchus inserted as a figure below (courtestsy of Hope Chen) offers an example of the iPython functionality. The colaboratory service is an interesting new alternative to running a hosted iPython solution.
    Hover over the figure above and click "Launch ipython" to launch (and run) the code that created this image in your brower. The Dataverse handle to the data file used to make this plot is linked through hdl:10904/10081.

    Better Storytelling

    As we stated at the outset, communicating results by way of what cognitive scientists refer to as "storytelling" has the deepest, most long-lasting, impact on a reader, viewer, or listener. Until recently, journal articles only contained words, numbers, and pictures, but today we can enhance journal articles' storytelling potential with audio, video, and enhanced figures that offer interactivity and context. We consider each of these opportunities in turn, below.

    5.1 Audio

    Audio can be used to narrate content in words, or to demonstrate a scientific concept. Today's scientist are most familiar with audio as the soundtrack to narrated videos that can standalone (as in recordings of talks), or that can accompany content within a paper. A narrated video example of the latter is discussed below, with reference to "Interacticity." Less familiar to most scientists today is the process of sonification (Diaz-Merced 2012), where information that may not be inherently auditory such as the power spectrum of the CMB or pulsations from Gamma Ray Burts are encoded into sound streams. For some, these sonifications can add another channel of data appreciation and formal publishing systems should be prepared to accept audio.

    5.2 Video

    Video as an exploratory and explanatory visualization mode for scientific data has come of age. Many scientific talks today include some short video, explaining a concept that is better explained with moving images than with static figures. Some journals even publish nearly exclusively video, in fields where it is so instuctive on its own that less accompanying material is needed. For example, JoVE, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, began in 2006 as the world's first peer reviewed scientific video journal.
    Including video, like audio, is a challenge in standard journals, even when online, due to the plethora of video (and audio) file formats that potentially need supporting. It is a value-added service of a publisher to advertise which formats are acceptable, and to then migrate those formats in the future so that multimedia content continues to be accessible. Even the modern de-facto standard paper format, PDF, fully supports audio and video. Both can be included using only LaTeX packages and require no special technology. Videos can present sequential figures, true movies of time-variable phenomena, movies of simulated phenomena in time, or even commentary from authors.
    Long-term considerations around video, other than the challenge of archiving and format migration, will also involve commenting. As discussed below, it is likely that authors will rely more in the future on the opinions of readers/viewers being recorded as they are included as "comments" attached to the media that form a publication. Commenting tools that involve video are currently maturing, but not robust. In the near future though, both video commenting and commenting on video are likely to be sought-after features.

    5.3 Enhanced Figures

    Historically, a figure in a paper is a static, in that it offers one unchanging view of the data authors wish to present. Often, though, adding an opporutnity to either manipulate a figure or see it in context lets a reader learn more. By using visualization software capable of outputting to formats that allow for interactivity, authors are not limited to a single view of a figure, and readers can explore beyond what an author-provided default view provides.

    5.3.1 Interactivity : Linking Views and Staging

    A simple interactive figure gives its user an experience of playing with data, but in a very limited sandbox. Many top-tier news agencies (e. g. The York Times) have used and helped develop technology (e.g. the javascript library known as d3) that allows for the creation of interactive figures without a need for dedicated developers. Three key features of the emerging paradigm for ineractive communication of quantitative information are Brushing, Linking, and Staging.
    • Brushing is the idea of being able to select, with a box or lasso like tool, a subset of the points in a one- or two- dimensional space.
    • Linking is when data points are connected. In the
      context of brushing, this allows a user to explore high dimensional
      spaces by selecting collections of points in one dimension and
      determining where they lie in another dimension.
    • Staging is a storytelling tool, allowing the author to
      reveal or highlight parts of a figure in sequence. The highlighting can
      take the form of Brushing and Linking as above.
    The example below shows a five-stage figure, where each panel is interactive, and offers a different view of the same data (see caption). This YouTube video explains more about the technology stack that created the figure.
    In the example here, data about the discovery of moons of Jupiter is presented in four "stages" of a story, each of which itself offers brushing and linking between the two plots shown. The origin of this plot is explained in this video narrated by Josh Peek. Technical steps to creating this figure: 1) ingest data to Glue, a desktop linked-view visualization tool written in Python by Chris Beaumont; 2) output Glue results to d3po (a prototype linked-view web tool written in d3 (javascript) by Adrian Price-Whelan and Josh Peek); 3) ingest the d3po javascript output to Authorea, producing the interactive figure shown above. For reference, Glue and similar programs can also output to other javascript plotting tools, such as, which are rapidly becoming more flexible and robust than prototypes like d3po.

    5.3.2 Interactivity : Expressing 3D Information in 2D

    The web as a publishing platform allows authors to include graphics that move. While stereoscopic 3D viewing on 2D surfaces is possible (and improving), cognition research shows that presently the best way for humans to understand 3D geometry on a 2D screen is to be able to manipulate 3D perspective views dynamically, so as to simulate views created by moving around in real space.
    As is the case with video or audio, many formats are available for presenting 3D graphics online, and a good publisher should advertise which of those will be supported and migrated in the future. Also as is the case with audio/video, the present de-facto standard, PDF, supports 3D objects in the Adobe PDF environment. Acrobat's 3D functionality allows for a selectable sequence of views of embedded 3D objects, in which each view can have a subset of objects visible from a given vantage point. The first interactive 3D PDF was published in a major journal (Nature) in 2009 (Goodman 2009), and a limited number others have appeared in major scientific publications since,e.g. Putman et al. (2012)
    The tools for creating 3D PDFs were spun off from Adobe itself a few years ago, so presently, it can be cumbersome to generate such figures. A tutorial now exists that allows a user to generate a PDF with a 3D figure using LaTeX tools.
    PDF has the advantage of offering a printable equivalent of an onscreen document, but it is not clear for how much longer a printable version take precedence over intereactive features. As long as a 2D screenshot (or its equivalent) can be included in an archival "printable" version of a paper, it seems adviseable for a modern pubisher to support a range of 3D interactive options, not just PDF.
    Screen shot of the first 3D PDF published in Nature in 2009 (Goodman 2009). A video demonstration of how users can interact with the figure is on YouTube, here. Open the PDF here in Adobe Acrobat to interact.

    5.3.3 Putting Images in Context

    Most observational astronomy has the unique feature of having a specific space to which the data are attached: the celestial sphere. As such, it makes sense for us to attach our images to locations. The AstroExplorer tool (cite) and the ADS All Sky Survey can allow images to be treated as data, in the sense that they can be "put back" on the Sky in context. Here's a sample, using an image from Barnard that is 100 years old (update). Click the caption's link to see it on the Sky in WorldWide Telescope.
    Click here to see this image on the Sky in your browser (using HTML5 WorldWide Telescope). Original image source.

    Deeper, Easier Citations

    Many scientists already use some kind of reference management system, whether it is a giant .bbl library alongside their local TeX installation, an ADS Private Libraray, or more sophisticated generalized solutions like EndNote, Papers, Mendeley, Zotero, etc.
    Inserting citations using any of these tools is relatively easy in nearly any of the online authoring systems discussed above (e.g. Authorea, shareLaTeX, writeLaTeX).
    If an astronomer uses Authorea, inserting a reference is as simple as cutting & pasting the URL from ADS into the "cite" command. Cut and pasting DOI links also work in Authorea, as well as in other tools.
    Generally, the whole business of citing material that has any kind of online identifier will continue to get easier and easier, and the challenge will be for publishers (and authors) to make the best use of the resulting accidental and purposeful specialized bibliographies.(Kurtz 2010)

    Linking People

    7.1 ORCID Identifiers

    Open Researcher Contributor ID or ORCID is a free service that provides authors a unique persistent identifier and profile. ORCID identifiers are to people what DOIs are to online objects like papers, datasets, images, etc. Efficient use of ORCID identifiers by publishers will allow for improved search and bibliometric analysis of individuals' or instutions' output in the future.

    7.2 Social Media

    Social media has already begun to take on the role of providing commentary on papers. While these formats are not directly linked to papers, it is worth noting that people are using platforms like Twitter to discuss papers, e.g. this disucssion on a recent astro-ph paper

    7.3 Annotation: Commenting and Markup

    As the process of Science is not the production of scientific papers, but rather the conversation that takes place with and around these documents, the social context in which a paper appears is a crucial aspect we wish to capture. The rich repository of recorded audience comments on conference preceedings from bygone years is an example of how lightly moderated, unrefereed discussion centered on a document can vastly increase its richness. While these conversations are happening all the time over the internet (see Section 7.2), they are not tagged to specific parts of papers, nor are they easily collectable or moderatable.
    There is now a push, both in industry ventures and in open standards, to allow for the annotation of digital objects across the internet. The World Wide Web Consortium, responsible for developing web standards, has a working group on open standards, with a nice visualization of their ideas here. These standards are designed to support annotation engines within them, such as There are also companies working on annotation specific to scholarly publications, such as Domeo and a vibrant community working on these problems. Technology already exists for referencing smaller parts of papers through component DOIs and, given the success of the DOI paradigm, this may be a ripe area for exploration of annotations for journals.
    It is worth noting that the idea of annotation as a powerful communication tool is not limited obscure standards working groups and scholarly startups. Amusingly, the world leader in the fusty annotation movement is also the granddaddy of all "kids these days" exasperation: rap music. Rap Genius, and the expaned Genius brand started as an annotation engine for rap, but has expanded to a huge range of documents and ideas. Both rap music and scholarly work concentrate a huge amount of referential information into limited texts, which often need to be unpacked to be understood, even by expert audiences. Explicit, open discussion of these texts democratizes what has historically been insider information.

    Future Media (Hard and Soft)

    Random-access media like bound paper journals or paper newspapers are currently undervalued, and chances are they will make a comeback, using e-paper where each "page" is repurposable. Any thoughts about a "Paper of the Future" need to consider how media will serve us in the distant future. Full compatibility is not required, but readability should be.
    A "Enchanted" book, with moving, changeable images, and interactive content, on each physical page. On view at "The Power of Poison" display at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City from November 2013 -- August 2014. An online version of the material is at, but it is key to point out the the experience online, on a screen, is a very poor substitute for the physical object--where each physical page updates as it is turned.

    Archival Value

    Perhaps the main benefit of paper is in its value as an archival medium. Acid-free paper can last hundreds if not thousands of years, and the same can definitely not be said of digital media at present. For now, at least, there is clearly merit in thinking of how to assure that a printable summary of even a very interactive paper can be archived on paper. Services like the Internet Archive and Memento are improving year by year, but it is not yet clear when (if ever) electronic archiving will match physical archiving for long-term storage of information.


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The "Paper" of the Future - Authorea