Academia, Publishing, and Scholarly Communication

Sanghyun Baek
Dec 20, 2018 · 8 min read

[Pluto Series] #0 — Academia, Structurally Fxxked Up
[Pluto Series] #1 — Research, the Knowledge Creating Industry
[Pluto Series] #2 — Academia, Publishing, and Scholarly Communication
[Pluto Series] #3 — Publish, but really Perish?
[Pluto Series] #4 — Publish or Perish, and Lost in Vain
[Pluto Series] #5 — On Where they Publish
[Pluto Series] #6 — On Number of Publications
[Pluto Series] #7 — On Citation Fundamentals
[Pluto Series] #8 — On Citing Practices
[Pluto Series] #9 — On Tracking Citations
[Pluto Series] #10 — On Peer Reviews
[Pluto Series] #11 — Ending the Series

In our last post, we’ve seen that research is about increasing the stock of knowledge, that it has changed in recent centuries in how it is publicly communicated, and that it is so important that globally as many dollars as the GDP of United States is poured into R&D each year.

Now in this post we want to delve deeper into the communicative natures of research, how various social stakeholders are involved in it, and how exactly research findings are communicated in practice.

RESEARCH ECOSYSTEM

Before we get to the problems to be dealt with, it is important to understand how the global research ecosystem works. On the surface, it looks obvious that the core of any research project is the research activities themselves: setting the hypothesis, designing experiments and collecting data, analyzing the data, interpreting, and etc. However, those are what happens usually INSIDE each research group, and there are many more to the system that interacts with research projects in the bigger system.

There are three major social stakeholders in the research ecosystem at large, researchers, of course, being the most fundamental of them. Two others are the funding agencies and the publishers. Funding agencies take the critical role of, as their names literally infer, the financial backing of research projects. Ranging from business entities and private foundations to government-run public funds, these funding agencies usually engage in the evaluation of the applications from researchers, often called ‘grant proposals’.

Publication of research findings is the primary business of publishers. Research findings are typically published together within a collection sharing a similar field of interest, or ‘journals’. These journals are regularly issued and made available through either brick-and-mortar magazines or online distribution channels.

Interoperability in research ecosystem, source: Laure Haak, ORCID

The complexity and diversity of the system reach far beyond these three players, though we’re putting emphasis on them regarding the purpose of this series. Several notable roles may include universities and institutes, policymakers, bibliographic services, learned societies, and diverse softwares and services providers.

SCHOLARLY COMMUNICATION

Academia evolves in a circulating process. Researchers, when they initiate a research project, read a whole bunch of resources from the past to generate ideas for their own further studies, which is often referred to as ‘literature review’. And their research projects lead to even more resources being generated, which are then again read by others in the future.

Scholarly communication value cycle, source: Maxwell, Bordini & Shamash (2016)

Such process of communicating information around researchers is usually referred to as ‘Scholarly Communication’, but more formally it is defined as ‘the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use.’ In practice, it has several forms such as peer-reviewed journals, books, and conferences. Before the internet, researchers around the world communicated with written letters as well. A relatively modern form of scholarly communication may include sharing of the dataset arising from a research project. In an extremely broader sense, a face-to-face dialogue could be understood as an instance of scholarly communication if it involves the transmission of information relevant to research, though it might not fall into the formal definition by ALA as a lot of spoken communications are not preserved for future use. As mentioned above, the evaluation of grant proposals by funding agencies can be also thought as an example of scholarly communication.

Among these diverse and dynamic forms, the most prevalent is through peer-reviewed journals. As aforementioned, journals are periodical publications in which research findings and other scholarly articles from similar fields of interest are included. Peer review, or sometimes refereeing, is the process in which those findings and articles are evaluated by several other experts from the same field. The distribution of these journals often took place in printed forms delivered via postal systems. More often than not, researchers these days access the journals or their individual articles through digital means.

Specifically, a typical cycle of scholarly communication through a peer-reviewed journal would work as follows:
a) researchers reuse some works from the past to further their own study,
b) fundamental research activities such as data collection and analysis are conducted,
c) new works are generated from the study,
d) reviewed by peers from the same field,
e) published in a journal, with some possible revisions, if not rejected, then
f) preserved by publishers, libraries, or others for future use.

Scholarly communication cycle, source: ACRL

The first and last parts of this cycle, namely how scholarly works are preserved and reused, have noticeably evolved. Before the internet, they were published in issues, delivered to subscribing individuals and groups through postal systems, and libraries usually took the role of preserving them as well as indexing so that their patrons could reuse them with ease. After the internet, bibliographic indexes have been developed such that the original scholarly articles are preserved in digital forms by publishers and delivered for reuse when requested by researchers through indexing services.

PUBLICATION PROCESS

The publication process in a peer-reviewed journal usually covers the steps c to e from the cycle addressed above. The explanation here is to help basic understanding of the process, thus is very general, and specific process may be different for each journal.

The publication process begins when an author submits a manuscript to the journal. An editor of the journal, usually the editor-in-chief, takes a preliminary screening of the manuscript to determine whether it is suitable to proceed further for peer review. When determined to proceed, editors or the editorial board select several reviewers who are generally experts from the same discipline.

The manuscript undergoes scrutiny by selected reviewers, or peer-reviewed, to evaluate its scientific values. Reviewers report their reviews to the editor, often including their judgement on whether the manuscript is suitable for publishing, requires revisions, or be rejected. Upon receiving the peer review reports, editors or the editorial board make the final decision on publication. Manuscripts determined to be published will be distributed to institutes, libraries, or individuals who either subscribe to the journal or request access to the specific article.

Peer review in scholarly communication, according to Wikipedia, is “the process of subjecting an author’s scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field, before a paper describing this work is published in a journal, conference proceedings or as a book.” It is the most distinctive feature in scholarly journals. Although often disputed, their primary purposes include: “ascertaining originality, correctness, novelty, importance, and clarity of exposition”; “to determine their worth, quality, methodological rigour, utility, and publishability”; “to improve quality or to validate or authenticate scientific work, or guarantee its integrity”. These often disputed roles of peer review are sometimes described as ‘quality control’, either improving or screening. Peer reviews may involve some possible rounds of revisions when reviewers reported suitability for publishing with some required revising of the manuscript.

Types of peer review, source: twitter @Editage

As dynamic as their disputed roles, there are various categorizations of peer review process depending on several aspects of how they are delivered. Among them is the categorization by whether the identities of authors and reviewers are pseudonymous. In single-blind peer review, the identities of reviewers are hidden, whereas in double-blind both authors and reviewers are pseudonymous. Open peer review, although the exact definition differs for various implementations, is frequently quoted as the process of peer review where both parties are disclosed of their identities, at least at some point of time during the publication process.

Peer reviews are also distinguished by the time of point they take place, either before or after publication. Pre-publication peer review refers to the typical peer review conducted in a publication process for journals. Research works are involved in post-publication reviews as well, where they get more comments and discussions after they are published formally within a journal.

Other instances of peer review include: published peer review reports, where the commentaries by reviewers are as well published alongside the manuscript; review-of-reviews, where the peer reviewers cross-check reports of each other; portable peer review, or sometimes transferable or cascading reviews, where peer reviews are decoupled from the journals.

In Short

Research projects involve several social stakeholders: funding agencies when initializing the projects by deciding to support them with resources, researchers of course in the most fundamental activities of the projects in the sense of research itself, and publishers and their journals when the results from these projects are communicated.

The communicative system of research is called Scholarly Communication, with its most prevalent form being “peer reviewed journals”. Scholarly Communication is a circulating process, where a knowledge piece is reused for another piece of knowledge to be created. The most distinctive feature of scholarly communication is peer review, where experts from the same field would scrutinize the scientific validity and originality of each scholarly work.

Now that we explored the communication system of research, next post will address the incentive structure that motivate researchers, the evaluation methods used when determining that incentive, and the necessity of evaluation in research ecosystem.

[Pluto Series] #0 — Academia, Structurally Fxxked Up
[Pluto Series] #1 — Research, the Knowledge Creating Industry
[Pluto Series] #2 — Academia, Publishing, and Scholarly Communication
[Pluto Series] #3 — Publish, but really Perish?
[Pluto Series] #4 — Publish or Perish, and Lost in Vain
[Pluto Series] #5 — On Where they Publish
[Pluto Series] #6 — On Number of Publications
[Pluto Series] #7 — On Citation Fundamentals
[Pluto Series] #8 — On Citing Practices
[Pluto Series] #9 — On Tracking Citations
[Pluto Series] #10 — On Peer Reviews
[Pluto Series] #11 — Ending the Series

Pluto Network
Homepage / Github / Facebook / Twitter / Telegram / Medium
Scinapse: Academic search engine
Email:
team@pluto.network

Pluto

Rediscover knowledge

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store