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What Comes Next?

Alison Muddr ccooo

Note: This blog is derived from remarks that I gave earlier this year at the UN Open Science Conference (fast forward to minute 31 to begin watching). This is the final blog in a series of posts on how we can collectively change scholarly publishing for the benefit of all of us. In part one, I outlined the challenges we need to overcome to affect change. In part two, I highlighted how shifting to Open Science practices can have meaningful and long-lasting impact. In part three, I discussed how institutional business models can also affect equitable change at scale.

So where do we go from here? What’s required of publishers to accelerate the transition to Open Science and change the landscape for the good of all of us?

Back in the early days of the pandemic– which now feels like a lifetime ago – I remember being deeply moved by Arundhati Roy’s piece The Pandemic is a Portal about the impact of the pandemic in India. Towards the end, she notes that “…in the midst of this terrible despair, [this moment] offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves.”

I can’t help but think that this same imperative applies to scientific publishing. I don’t think that evolutionary change will get us to where we need to be fast enough. At the STM Conference in Frankfurt last October, even a panel of CEOs from the biggest publishers agreed that scholarly publishing hadn’t changed that much.

While I’m enormously proud of what PLOS has achieved in its first 23 years, our role is fundamentally that of a catalyst and so we’re nowhere near done.

To inform our next leap forward, we’ve been in deep conversation over recent months with four key groups: researchers, senior university administrators, librarians, and funders. While we’ve heard support for much work done by publishers, we’vealso heard convergence on what’s failing and frustration at the lack of disruption.

One of our roles has always been to demonstrate what’s possible and so that’s again where our focus is now shifting. We have a vision for a radical reframing of research sharing, built on the principles of Open Science, based on rigor, openness, and equity.

That vision is something we’re now making concrete as we create a new way of sharing research. This will shift us away from the final article being the sole center of attention to one of a series of research objects, shared and appropriately assessed at different points in the research lifecycle. One that demonstrates that the article doesn’t have to be immutable but that conclusions may shift over time. And one in which peer review evolves into less of a binary accept/reject decision to a more nuanced assessment.

There are a growing number of other innovators alongside us. But not enough. Our industry must embrace more radical change and let go of its own distorting incentives, those of profits and prestige.

Call to Action

And so as with all good experiments, the one we’ve lived these past few years will only be useful if we learn something and change as a result. We’ve all seen what’s possible. And we know what’s at stake. Now is the time to capitalize on this progress, to deepen interconnection, to align infrastructure and policies. We know that Open Science is the most effective way to tackle our common global challenges.

And so, I’d like to leave you with a question: as a publisher, funder, scientist, or policymaker, what steps can you each take to move us forward?

Publishers have both an opportunity and a responsibility to act now, but we all share that responsibility. Everyone in this ecosystem is a crucial partner in the ambitions that I’ve outlined in this series of blogs posts. If each of us is willing to take one disruptive step, we can ensure the pandemic’s legacy is a reminder not just of what science can do, but also of how science should be done.

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