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  • Marianne Calilhanna

Scholarly Publishing is Getting its Mainstream Moment

For those of us in the scholarly publishing industry, it's likely we've spent quite a bit of time explaining what we do to folks outside the industry. I often share a Scholarly Kitchen classic from Kent Anderson that demonstrates the value the scholarly publishing ecosystem brings to the advancement of science and the humanities: Focusing on Value—102 Things Journal Publishers Do.

As the world continues to deal with a global pandemic, evidence-based science is having a mainstream moment. Within 1 week, The New York Times published two articles highlighting academic journals and peer review.

In an article titled "Coronavirus is Forcing Medical Research to Speed Up," journalist Kim Tingley details the scientific process and how scientific advances propagate. She reminds us the genesis of the scientific journal:

Scientific journals consider their audience to be other scientists, not the general public. But the scientific journal as we know it was actually born because of popular demand for information during a pandemic.
In the early 1820s, a smallpox outbreak struck Paris and other French cities. A new vaccine was in existence at the time, but reports varied about how effective it was. A powerful medical institution in Paris, the Académie de Médecine, gathered its members to discuss what advice it should issue to the nation. Historically, such meetings were held privately, but the French Revolution had ushered in a new era of government accountability, and journalists were allowed to attend. The scientific debate they relayed upset some members of the Académie, which had hoped to make a clear, unified statement, says Alex Csiszar, an associate professor of the history of science at Harvard University. In response, the Académie sought to regain control of its message by publishing its own weekly accounts of its discussions, which evolved into the academic journals we know today.

Another article in The New York Times titled, "Coronavirus Tests Science's Need for Speed Limits" details the surge in submissions to preprint servers as well as peer-reviewed journals. Journalist Wudan Yan details preprint servers and the issues that arise when people without scientific expertise attempt to dissect research in process:

While some of these peer-reviewed findings have helped other scientists, others have been exaggerated on social media and by traditional news outlets. One example was a study about the potential of combining anti-malarial and antibiotic drugs to treat Covid-19. President Trump touted it as “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.” The paper’s publisher is now investigating its findings. To date, there is no conclusive data that suggests these drugs work.

Both articles tout the

  1. increase of submissions that many journal publishers are experiencing

  2. speed at which publishers are making articles available

  3. openness of COVID-19--related research being made available to everyone

I wish that it didn't take a global pandemic to bring the scholarly publishing industry into the spotlight. However, as I continue to look for silver linings at this strange time I'll admit it's nice to hear my friends say R0 ("R naught") correctly and see "Dr. Anthony Fauci" open Saturday Night Live.



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