Making scholarly publishing work for science in the digital era

Universal open access, open licensing and long-term maintenance of the record of science are just some of the key principles for scholarly publishing advocated in a new ISC Report.

Opening the record of science: making scholarly publishing work for science in the digital era analyses how far the contemporary scholarly publishing system serves the needs of the scientific community, and advocates seven key principles for scholarly publishing to best advance science as a global public good.

In recent decades, concerns have been repeatedly raised about efficient access to the record of science – both for those who wish to read scholarly publications, and for the authors of such publications themselves. Technological change, an explosion in demand for publication outlets, monopolistic behaviour on the part of some publishers, and the use of journal impact factors and cited publications as primary indicators of scientific merit have raised questions about the functioning of the scholarly publishing system.

“Science most effectively serves the global public good when the knowledge and understanding that it creates is shared and communicated promptly and comprehensibly into the public sphere. There are important principles that should be observed in achieving these purposes, which can also be powerfully supported by the tools of the digital revolution. In aggregate, the current system of scientific and scholarly publishing falls short in achieving these aims, and it is essential that the scientific community engages more fundamentally in the function and governance of its publishing systems”.

Geoffrey Boulton, Chair of the ISC project on the Future of Scientific Publishing and member of the ISC Governing Board.

The report advocates seven key principles towards this aim:

  1. There should be universal open access to the record of science, both for authors and readers.
  2. Scientific publications should carry open licenses that allow re-use and text and data mining.
  3. Rigorous and ongoing peer review is essential to the integrity of the record of science.
  4. The data/observations underlying a published truth claim should be concurrently published.
  5. The record of science should be maintained to ensure open access by future generations.
  6. Publication traditions of different disciplines should be respected.
  7. Systems should adapt to new opportunities rather than embedding inflexible infrastructures.

These principles have received strong support from the international scientific community as represented by the membership of the ISC.

The publication is the culmination of a year-long process to convene the views of the ISC membership and the wider scientific community on the evolving landscape of scholarly publishing and possible future directions, as part of the ‘Future of Scientific Publishing’ project outlined in the ISC’s 2019-2021 Action Plan.

The report was first prepared as a discussion document in consultation with an international working group. The text was subjected to three phases of review by representatives of the ISC membership and by external experts, and was then revised before being submitted to the ISC Governing Board for its agreement as an ISC Report.

The Report is primarily directed towards the scientific community and its institutions, seeking to establish a shared view of the principles and priorities of the system through which its work is disseminated, and as a precursor for action to promote beneficial change. It will be used to set the agenda for a subsequent phase of discussion and action involving ISC members and other stakeholders. A representative international Steering Group is currently being formed, whose remit is to advise the Council on tractable priorities for reform and action; to assist in identifying and addressing relevant regional priorities; and to advise on processes designed to implement change. 

All ISC Members have been invited to provide feedback and to indicate their interest in engaging with the next phase of the project. For more information, please contact Lizzie Sayer.

Header photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash