At the Ref Desk (5/22/18): Got an IM request explaining in great detail (several sentences in fact) what kind of article the person was looking for. Only thing missing -- the topic. Oh well... [more...]

Is Scientific Publishing About to Be Disrupted?

Submitted by Leo Klein on Sun, 7/19/09 (9:02pm)
Pub Date: 

Part II: Is scientific publishing about to be disrupted?

What’s all this got to do with scientific publishing? Today, scientific publishers are production companies, specializing in services like editorial, copyediting, and, in some cases, sales and marketing. My claim is that in ten to twenty years, scientific publishers will be technology companies [3]. By this, I don’t just mean that they’ll be heavy users of technology, or employ a large IT staff. I mean they’ll be technology-driven companies in a similar way to, say, Google or Apple. That is, their foundation will be technological innovation, and most key decision-makers will be people with deep technological expertise. Those publishers that don’t become technology driven will die off.


Let’s look up close at one element of this flourishing ecosystem: the gradual rise of science blogs as a serious medium for research. It’s easy to miss the impact of blogs on research, because most science blogs focus on outreach. But more and more blogs contain high quality research content. Look at Terry Tao’s wonderful series of posts explaining one of the biggest breakthroughs in recent mathematical history, the proof of the Poincare conjecture. Or Tim Gowers recent experiment in “massively collaborative mathematics”, using open source principles to successfully attack a significant mathematical problem. Or Richard Lipton’s excellent series of posts exploring his ideas for solving a major problem in computer science, namely, finding a fast algorithm for factoring large numbers. Scientific publishers should be terrified that some of the world’s best scientists, people at or near their research peak, people whose time is at a premium, are spending hundreds of hours each year creating original research content for their blogs, content that in many cases would be difficult or impossible to publish in a conventional journal. What we’re seeing here is a spectacular expansion in the range of the blog medium. By comparison, the journals are standing still.