I am with about 150 people interested in “science communication on-line” at the British Library in London this week. Journals are all about the communication of science results, and the not-for-profit charity that owns us, The Annals of Botany Company, is dedicated to the dissemination of botanical knowledge. So it is critical that we are at the front of seeing how the web is changing the way we conduct, communicate, share and evaluate science – we need to see how the new mechanisms can be used in the very best way. Nevertheless, I think I am one of the only Chief Editors here, and the Annals team is strongly represented by Managing Editor David Frost, and both Alun Salt (@alun) and Alan Cann (@ajcann) who are leading our implementation of new approaches such as this blog, and Richard O’Beirne from our publishers, Oxford University Press.
Some of the community here are groups I have never met before, and using internet tools in enitrely new ways. The opening talk was given by Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society. During it, the internet connected audience (more iPads, Androids and netbooks on display than the largest computer supermarket!) was linked into Twitter, and our comments on his talk all appeared on the screen. Remarkably, this ‘crowd sourcing’ picked up, in 140 letter snippets, many of the salient points of his talk – it needs winnowing to remove half the tweets which are technical, but many forward-thinking nuggets are there, look at twitter with the hash-tags of #solo10 or #soloconf; my own limited contributions come from @pathh1.
About 25% of the audience are scientists with blogs and there are a number of science Journalists, most of whom now also have blogs. Few meetings have the level of audience participatition here, but in the company of those at the top of science communication, I don’t know whether to raise my hand as a ‘blogger’ or not – half a dozen contributions to the development of AoBBlog.com doesn’t let me take a place next to Grrl Scientist, Jenny Rohn, Andrew Jaffey, Alice Bell, Martin Robbins or other big names at the Guardian, Nature Network or independently run blogs. But it is great to be able to discuss what to write, how personal to make the blogs. Today, as AoBBlog.com is approaching a wide roll out to the plant community, the final session will be important for us: “If you build it, will the come?”
We at Annals of Botany are also working with two new companies strongly represented here at Science on-line: Mendeley and CiteULike, who allow you to build up reference libraries and collections. I find individual collections of papers on a topic just as important as review articles. In Mendeley, one of our Editors Jeffery Karron (wonderful pictures on that site!) has let us post his his collection of 2698 references on plant reproduction (see earlier blog), going back 100 years, and this really highlights the seminal papers in the field better than any review article, especially when the crowd-effect of multiple entries of the same publication starts to take effect. This mechanism picks up not only the papers in PNAS, Science or Nature, but the hidden gems – the crowd sourcing mentioned above. In CiteULike, I’ve been entering references I am working with for a paper I’m co-writing with colleagues from Nottingham on somatic hybrids in ornamental tobacco Nicotiana species; even with the relatively few papers on plant science there, their system already included a couple of papers relevant to our work which I might not have found otherwise.
Of course, there are many things journal editors like me can do to help make these collections more useful to other scientists, and this needs work at many levels. For example, do the titles of the papers we publish really summarize what the paper is about? While few journals publish something called ‘Studies on Ophioglossum XIV: Ecophysiology’ any more, it really is very important that the title does give a comprehensive view of the work. Keywords are still important – including different spellings, or ways to say major points for example, making sure the searches will find the paper. We will also be putting papers published in Annals of Botany, in many cases along with their bibliographies, into Mendeley and CiteULike over the coming months in the hope of helping people find outstanding papers in modern botany. I often write to unsuccessful authors to say that I don’t think this submission will be the work which ‘makes a difference to plant science’ and therefore may not be of interest to our wide readership. On-line collections papers means that we can really ensure groups of papers of special interest, published in any journal, can be brought together and found easily.
There are also thoughtful sessions about the future of the ‘paper’ as a unit. Personally, I don’t think continuous updating of ‘work in progress’ will ever work: a published paper is something that the authors, the referees, the Editor, the designers and the publishers all put their reputations behind as being something they are proud to have published. I can truly say that I am proud to have published every paper that has appeared in Annals of Botany in the last two years in my time as Chief Editor. I don’t think loose-ends or ongoing updates or conference posters would have anything like that level of value to the archive of literature.
As at many conferences, open access is also discussed. Publishing any paper costs something like £GBP1500 or USD$2000, and this must be paid ultimately either by authors or readers. I feel we at Annals of Botany have it about right – our light subscription control means that all papers free after 12 months, and are fully available through PubMed Central. It means that people without grant money – whether from developing countries or those who think and do fieldwork – are able to publish with us. All our Reviews and Briefings are freely accessible from the time of publication, and all papers are also freely accessible to Journalists and Bloggers, and any paper of interest to the wider public (particularly when highlighted in other publications) will be immediately made freely accessible. I would, though, like to have more open-access papers in the Journal!
Well, that’s about it from me on the first day of Science-On-Line. With AoBBlog.com, the snapshots of every paper we publish appearing in an accessible format, the introduction just today of the Highwire H2O platform for our on-line publication and linking, and other initiatives, I am convinced we are doing the right thing. I hope all of you – from the SOLO10 conference, from our readership, journalists and bloggers, and from the wider plant community – will be commenting and criticising these words of mine …
Just to save you from looking it up, my ‘day job’ is research on chromosome and genome evolution, biodiversity and speciation, primarily in crop plants but also models – my personal website is www.molcyt.com – very Web 1.0 in style, always more out of date than I would like, but hopefully content rich and with links to many publications and my talks. I also teach cell and developmental biology in the University of Leicester and internationally.
Annals of Botany is the oldest broad-spectrum plant science Journal, publishing continuously from 1887. We publish about 300 papers a year in 16 issues and something over 3000 pages. For those who believe in it, or current impact factor is 3.5 – but I believe it should be much higher! It is owned by the charity Annals of Botany Company, and published on our behalf by Oxford University Press.
I’m posting this blog immediately because I want feedback from the Science On-line conference, but I hope David Frost will look through it and do his magic to remove my dyslexic mistakes, unfinished sentences and non-sequiturs (not to say exchanging ‘which’ and ‘that’). So an update will exchange this article in a few hours. Oh, how I admire these writers who can get something written and posted in an hour, and don’t need a two-day cooling off period for me to find even a small proportion of the errors!