Scholarly communication tools and practices have been evolving for decades now. Where they end up decades from now is truly anyone’s guess. Until then, there are many issues that need to be resolved, and many reforms that should be pursued.
So what’s the holdup? Nothing really. There are a large number of organizations in the scholarly communication space who are working on reforms. Some of these groups are working together, most are not. Overall, our progress toward a more open research world has been growing steadily, although much progress remains to be made.
Or at least some people see it this way. Others are convinced that not nearly enough progress has been made to-date, which isn’t wrong—they’re just measuring progress differently. There are fundamental disagreements in scholarly communication about what kind of reforms we should be making. Some feel quite strongly that commercial publishers have no place in the future of research and that no reforms are complete unless publishers are excised from the picture. Others feel quite strongly that publishers have a centuries-long track record of serving the research community and that the tools and processes put in place by publishers are essential to retain because they facilitate good research and are valued by the research community. Still others are caught somewhere in between—-yes, publishing is valuable, but exactly what is “publishing” in the digital age, and can’t we do things more efficiently today than in years past?
There is also a wide range of disagreement over how fast needed reforms can and should happen. “Right now” is too slow for some, and “ten years from now” is too fast for others. On the fast side, advocates see the need for the immediate daylighting of research information that could cure cancer and reverse climate change. On the slow side, advocates see the need to move with caution lest we damage research with rash and ill-considered changes.
Aside from issues directly related to open access reform—what kind of open and how fast—there are also many persistent issues in this space that will require global cooperation to solve. The misuse of impact factors is one such issue, for instance. Impact factors at their most innocent simply tell researchers which journals are more important than others. At their most sinister they are used as a proxy for quality and drive publishing behavior that works at cross purposes to a more open world (what researcher, after all, wants to publish in a small start-up journal that is free to read if the real credit and glamor comes from publishing in the New England Journal of Medicine).
Plan A isn’t advocating one particular approach or time frame, but rather a necessary and inclusive process. By working together—however quickly and aggressively we decide to do this as a community—on realistic, robust, collaborative solutions that improve the capacity of research for all researchers everywhere, Plan A’s vision is that we will arrive at solutions that are both sustainable and highly effective—much more effective than any “solutions” imposed by outside groups with their own biases and agendas.
Indeed, Plan A’s vision is that by working together, and only by working together, we will eventually—maybe 15 years from now, maybe less, maybe more—-arrive at an “Open Renaissance” where the research ecosystem will grow exponentially more powerful as more open and connected data catalyzes more innovation and improvement. New fields and directions will emerge based on “connecting the dots,” funding efficiency will improve, and discovery will accelerate; the social impact of research will exceed today’s levels (including improved literacy, public engagement, and public policy impact); and knowledge will become more of a global public good, with society reaping the benefits.
All this will only happen if we find common ground in our quest for the future of open research, and begin working together on solutions that draw from the wisdom of all stakeholders. In order to capitalize on the potential of open research, we need to make the investment now to ensure we’re taking the right approach to this challenge. Simply chasing after imposed reforms is a waste of time, and ultimately an incredible waste of potential for both research and society.
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