SSRN CEO Gregg Gordon was in Portland on June 1st for the Society for Scholarly Publisher’s 45th annual meeting, and joined a lively debate on a plenary panel titled “The Evolving Knowledge Ecosystem.”
The panel was moderated by Roger Schonfeld of ITHAKA S+R, and the other panelists included Amy Brand of MIT Press, Julia Kostova from Frontiers, and Nandita Quaderi of Clarivate and Web of Science.
The wide-ranging debate considered questions about the purpose of scholarly publishing, research integrity, consolidation in the industry, and strategies around AI.
On the role of scholarly publishing, the panelists agreed on the core functions of being an active foundational element in the system of science, establishing a base of knowledge up on which researchers can build, as well as providing one of the key building blocks for building an academic career. Kostova from Frontier made a passionate argument in favour of the huge value of science to address the multiple crises the world now faces, particularly in terms of public health crises, climate change, and underlined the unprecedented role that research.
“Our success as a society is going to depend on that widespread sharing of knowledge,’ said Kostova. “We need to ensure the wide dissemination of the latest research to inform how we respond to these crises. I think it’s a new mandate, and and a very exciting one.”
Gregg’s remarks echoed the value of how essential research is to our ability to deal with the issues the world faces. “The evolution of knowledge and ability to solve hard problems is a good reason to get up in the morning,” he said.
On research integrity, Schonfeld asked the panel what more their companies could be doing to address the problems of research integrity and societal trust in science. “We have also seen research publishing become a societal vector for misinformation,” he said.
Nandita from Clarivate shared that only 15% of journals that apply make it to the Web of science, and those that do are regularly re-evaluated to check they still meet the WoS criteria. However increasing concerns means that more and more of Web of Science’s resources have to go into checking existing journals, which slows down its ability to evaluate new journals. The company is now investing in AI tools to help focus on journals that are showing signs of concern. To improve transparency, they will now, on a monthly basis, share which journals have been delisted and why.
There was an agreement that the incentives in current business models, which may encourage people to value quantity over quality, is one of the biggest challenges.
“It’s a balancing act,” said Gregg Gordon. “If we wanted to publish once paper very five years, we could probably figure out if was trustworthy or not. The problem is that doesn’t help us solve the hard problems Julia was talking about. From a preprint standpoint, we have always tried to provide a level of review, although not peer review, which was as trustworthy as we could make it in the time frame we had. However, I think people also have to take some personal responsibility to decide if what they are reading is trustworthy.”
For Julia, the solution to publishing integrity involves a wide set of stakeholders, not just publishers. Frontier started using an AI tool in 2019 that runs a wide range of checks, including on figures and images. “This is something we will continue to have to invest in, as well as in industry wide initiatives,” said Julia. “This is our social purpose as a business – to maintain the integrity of science.” She also argued that open and transparent research bolsters confidence in the public acceptance of science.
Amy Brand of MIT challenged Gregg on whether readers making their own judgements on preprints is something that can scale, arguing that people don’t have the time or expertise to do this work, and so instead need to rely on other signals to form trust.
In response, Gregg said, “I’m not in any way shape or form saying that you should trust a preprint should because it’s been shared. I’m saying that the knowledge lifecycle needs to get faster, and needs to get more iterative, and preprints have an important role to play in that process. I don’t think we can depend on any external source to be responsible for all of the trust in science. I agree communities make a difference, but I think we need to own some level of responsibility in the process.”
You can read more about the debate at the SSP Web site here.
Photo credit: Adam Bacher Photography and the Society for Scholarly Publishing