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#Emerging from the STM Meeting: 2015 Top Tech Trends

This past week at its Annual Conference in Washington DC, the International Association of STM Publishers  (STM) released their 2015 Tech Trends, the result of an exercise held during STM Week in London last December. Gathering together representatives of 26 organizations, the STM organizers asked these individuals to identify the top 3 technological trends they saw impacting their organization’s publishing activities over the next three to five years. The mix of organizations was relatively even, consisting of non-profits, scholarly societies, well-established university presses and commercial entities. Through a process of iterative discussions, an interesting view of what’s changing for this sector of the information industry emerges.

Presented as a colorful infographic, the STM Tech Trends consists of three inter-related core trends:

  • The first is the emergence of Data as a First Class Research Object. For those unclear as to the significance of that phrase, such objects are key to ensuring the ongoing reproducibility and reusability of scientific research material. In that light, such objects must be validated, made discoverable, made accessible, curated, and preserved in the interests of making them reusable by other researchers across time and geographical boundaries. The result is that, as the STM Report, Fourth Edition (March 2015)  said in its executive summary, publishers are challenged by the explosion in data-intensive research “to create new solutions to link publications to research data…, to facilitate data mining, and to manage the data set as a potential unit of publication .”
  • A second inter-related trend pertains to the emerging importance of Reputation Management. In the interest of accountability and transparency, funding bodies seek to better gauge the return on investment of grant dollars while institutions seek to evaluate and reward faculty contributions in attracting those dollars. Over the past decade, an array of new metrics have emerged, been tested for validity and are currently being tracked. Consequently, the researcher’s impact is assessed by more than just a publication track record. At the same time, there is a recognition that any metrics must be constructed in ways that guard against gamification and other misuse. Publishing has always played an important role in career management for researchers. Publishers see ways that they may continue to be of assistance to researchers in supporting career management while demonstrating to institutions their contribution.
  • Driven to some extent by the previous two is a third nascent trend the scholarly article as a crucial element in a hub and spoke model. While perhaps the least obvious of the three to external eyes, the developing form of the scholarly article as published output encompasses a variety of non-textual forms of content (video, data, software methods, other media, etc.). Those elements will ultimately be packaged, presented, and preserved in a smart network of connections that more effectively meet the needs of specific communities. In such a smart network, is the traditional article still recognized as in the print environment? Not necessarily, and even the term “article” may be a misnomer of sorts. But whatever those packaged elements may be called, it is clear that STM publishers are thinking about what form the evolving scholarly record may take in science and in academia. They recognize the forces of change and are anticipating how they can most appropriately serve the interests of the scholar and to move most nimbly to serve the researcher. But there is a key question that still requires an answer. How rapidly will each community or field of science push the evolution of long-standing practices surrounding appropriate documentation and presentation of results?

The infographic presentation offered up by STM shows these three trends as multiple wheels or cogs driving change, but the connectors between those wheels reflect some of the uncertainties that arose in the minds of those participating in this brainstorming session. How might publishers better support the researcher’s intellectual output for purposes of establishing priority and certification? Who will fund the various infrastructures required in support of this new type of publishing? How to solve issues of integration, standardization and preservation? How to best help protect the researcher in an Open Science and sharing environment against misuse or gaming? As we envision the future of STM and gauge where the technology may take us, these questions are entirely valid and require if not firm responses at least a sense of potential collaboration amongst all stakeholders.

It is all too easy to misrepresent these valid concerns from publishing professionals as springing from a desire to preserve a more traditional status quo.  That is, however, a far too facile characterization. Publishing professionals those from scholarly societies in particular have a vested interest in understanding and acting on the concerns of their members. At the moment, due to the various disruptive forces discussed here at the Scholarly Kitchen. research and scholarly communication of results between colleagues is changing. Naturally, we see new approaches and tools emerging as researchers themselves tinker with creating tools and resources that better support different tasks and workflows. But tinkering and nurturing new approaches exacts a price. As Eefke Smit, Director of Standards and Technology, STM, noted to me during our conversation about the 2015 Top Tech Trends, the scholarly publishing landscape is full of publications, tools and databases that were initially created by a working researcher dissatisfied with the tools or resources available at hand. It was only when such initiatives became successful and more demanding of the researcher’s time and attention (conflicting with his or her primary research goals) that the operations often would  be taken on by a more adequately resourced publishing entity.

As a researcher who joined the STM Tech Trends 2015 brainstorming session reportedly remarked, “I had perhaps expected the publishers to focus on the question of how might they make more money from these trends. But the key question was actually what is it that the researcher really wants and needs ”.

Viewed in that context, the results of the STM brainstorming session make clear a commitment from the publishing sector to continue to adapt to and support this on-going shift in the communication of scholarship by whatever means may best serve the broader research communities’ requirements. What’s needed is a joining of such efforts with those of information professionals and scholars in order to manage needed changes with the result of a more effective out-pouring of new knowledge and scientific understanding.

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