Can Science Publishers Harness Social Media?

The Brave New World of Science Publishing is the most comprehensive study of scientists’ use of social media ever undertaken.  You can download a complimentary executive summary here.

This report is designed to help publishers understand what scientists expect – and prefer –as Web 2.0 capabilities become the new industry standard.  Scientists and publishers rely on each other to establish the priority of discoveries, to validate the scientific process by peer review, to disseminate findings and to establish the scientific record.  However, social media threatens current business practices, and publishers that do not respond to these challenges, or respond by further entrenchment of traditional positions, could find themselves becoming increasingly unnecessary and irrelevant.

The advent of the Internet—particularly email and the World Wide Web—and its adoption by scientists heralded a revolution in research by lowering the barrier to communication and collaboration. Not only were scientists able to communicate informally with each other on an almost instantaneous time-scale, but much of the scientific literature became instantly accessible in one form or another.

In the decade since BioInformatics, LLC published its first study on how life scientists use electronic journals, the scientific publishing industry has weathered many storms. It has had to adapt rapidly to disruptive technologies, such as the emergence of the WWW as a rival medium, as well as grapple with a changing business model resulting from societal and economic forces. Some scientists, especially pioneers of the Open Access moment, have prophesied the end of traditional publishing as we know it.

Now come “Web 2.0” and “social media”—two related phenomena that again present publishers with perils but also unparalleled opportunities, at least for those willing to accept new challenges. Perils take the form of what some have called the “democratization of science”: a situation where, in theory, anyone can publish, anyone can comment, and all have access. Far from embracing these changes, there is a tendency for traditional publishers to view this as a somewhat dystopian future.

From their growing use of discussion boards, blogs, wikis, video and podcasts, scientists are learning how to employ Web 2.0 and social media tools to good effect. The Brave New World of Science Publishing will help publishers keep pace with the expectations of their readers while reinforcing their positions of respect and authority.

I’ve been invited to speak on this topic at the annual meeting of the the National Federation of Science Abstracting and Indexing Services (NFSAIS) in Philadelphia (February 22-24, 2009).  Hope to see you there!