Interview: The Future of Publishing and the Fear of Getting Scooped

Interview: The Future of Publishing and the Fear of Getting ScoopedWe recently reconnected with our friend, Eva Amsen Ph.D., and found that in the time since our last conversation she’s moved on to a new job (congrats!). Her new position at Faculty of 1000 has thrown her right in the middle of a topic many scientists are very interested in–the future of scientific publishing. In a world of ever-increasing numbers of journals and lower technological barriers to information sharing, it’s unclear whether most publications will survive. We recently spoke with Eva about her views on the future and how the fear of getting scooped may be a driver for a new model of publication.

1. BenchFly: Since we last collaborated to create a Group Meeting Bingo board for Developmental Biologists, there have been some exciting changes in your life!

Amsen: Yes! I had fun setting up the Node and providing an online space for developmental biologists, but I wanted to work with a broader group of scientists – beyond developmental biology and stem cells – so I moved to F1000Research, where I get to work on a journal that’s doing interesting things for all life scientists.

2. Based upon your recent experience, do you have any advice for other scientists on finding opportunities away from the bench?

If you’re at the bench now, and know that you want to find a job outside of research, start doing some of that work on the side right now. I know lab work is time consuming, but if that’s all you do, then that’s going to be all that you *can* do. I did a lot of blogging and science writing on the site, which proved useful, but other people might be interested in public engagement activities, or editing papers for friends, or even starting up a company on the side. If you really want to do these things, it will be fun to you, and you can find time for it.

3. Many folks looking to leave the bench worry that their years of scientific training will essentially be lost when they walk out of the lab. What skills, if any, do you feel prepared you well for your new position? Conversely, what have you found to be challenging?

The main translational skills that I picked up in the lab are probably time management and project planning. If you’re dealing with live cells that need attention every 48 hours, and thesis deadlines, and papers to grade, you get very good at determining what needs to be done to get everything finished on time!

The most difficult thing for me after leaving the lab has been that I don’t always enough time to think and process. I think I miss incubation times, where an experiment is just running itself for an hour or so and you can do something else without delaying your work. Now, if I sit and think for an hour, I’m an hour behind on my work!

4. We theorized that at some point in the not-too-distant-future, journals will no longer be the primary mode of scientific publication and over 70% of scientists thought that would be in the next 20 years. However, there are a number of innovative new publication models emerging. How do you see the future of scientific publishing?

I can see journals disappearing slowly. Journals come from a time when periodical print publishing was the best way to get your work out there, and that has now become a slow and static process compared to the much more flexible internet. There are entire fields within physics where researchers don’t publish in journals anymore, but just upload their work to ArXiv. In the life sciences we’ve been more conservative, but here, too, people are starting to publish a lot of their work outside of journals. Figshare and institutional repositories are getting large amounts of data that might not otherwise be published anywhere, but now is out there, ready for others to see. That just wasn’t possible in the 17th century, when the first scientific journal was published. Many new journals take full advantage of the fact that they don’t have to deal with print issues: they can accept all sound science, link and embed material within the text, track article level metrics, publish non-static articles, include referee reports and accept comments. Journals are starting to look less like journals, and more like interactive websites, so I can see that we’re in a transition phase, where eventually “journals” with periodical issues will become redundant.

5. Beyond the emergence of alternate platforms for sharing results (lab website/blog, etc.) the last decade has seen an explosion in the number of journals. F1000 has also launched a journal, F1000Research – what made F1000 decide to jump into the publication arena and what makes this journal different from the hundreds of other publications out there?

Technically, the company has previous publishing experience: F1000’s founder, Vitek Tracz, also founded BioMedCentral, the very first open access journal. F1000Research is effectively the next step: first it was open access, now it’s open data and open refereeing.

The biggest difference is that F1000Research does transparent post-publication peer review: articles go online after an in-house check, and the peer review doesn’t start until after the article is published. On any given article you can see if it has been reviewed yet, if authors have revised it, and even the full referee reports by invited reviewers – and their names! By publishing before review, research can get out there much faster.

Another difference is that authors can always update their paper – not just in response to reviewer comments, but also if they did some more experiments that they’d like to add to support the paper, or to update a literature review with a summary of new work. Those newer versions of the paper are linked to the old one, so you can always find the latest updates.

6. Speed is definitely important–anyone who’s ever worked in a lab is familiar with the idea of getting “scooped”—or seeing their work published by another group before they publish theirs. In fact, as a graduate student I had a paper held up for nearly at a single journal—not exactly relaxing times. Was this the major driving force for establishing the journal?

It was one of the main driving forces. (Openness — of data and referee reports as well as the paper itself — was probably the biggest one). The fact that we can publish an article within days of submission has definitely been a driving force for some of the authors who submitted to F1000Research. If you know a competitor is working on the same thing, it can be extremely stressful and disappointing to then get scooped as a result of delays by editors and referees. With F1000Research you might still have to wait for the referees (and articles don’t get indexed in PubMed until after they pass peer review), but in the mean time, the work is out there, and you can prove that you did it first. It’s also really useful if you have a grant deadline coming up: you don’t have to say “manuscript submitted” or “under review”, but you can link to the actual paper.

7. We live in a short attention span society, where thoughts longer than 140 characters seem burdensome… So if you were walking past a scientist in a hallway and had to blurt out one sentence as to why they should consider publishing in F1000Research, what would you say?

If we were running quickly and I had *very* little time to talk, I would steal the title of a blog post that Jeffrey Marlow at Wired science used to write about F1000Research: “Publish first, ask questions later

If I had a bit more time, and could use a full 140 characters, twitter-style, I’d say “F1000Research uses a transparent post-publication peer review system, so you can publish within a week, and see signed referee reports later” (That’s exactly 140, although without punctuation…)

8. Since we’re still sweating over the stressful memories question 7 elicited, we want to open the final question up to everyone since we’re curious how many people share our anxiety (or if we’re just neurotic…).

Have you ever seen anyone get scooped? (Check all that apply)

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Eva AmsenEva holds a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Toronto, and is interested in all aspects of communication between researchers, from hallway conversations to academic papers. Before joining F1000Research, she launched and ran several initiatives for scientists to connect with each other and the wider community, such as the Node and SciBarCamp.

Leading image courtesy of F1000 Research.

3 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Christopher Dieni

    wrote on September 10, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    SUCH a neat concept! It's awesome because BioMedCentral (BMC) Biochemistry was the journal in which I published my first 1st-author paper, and I LOVED the idea of it being open-access. Great idea for a new publishing model and great post.

  2. Christopher Dieni

    wrote on September 10, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    SUCH a neat concept! It's awesome because BioMedCentral (BMC) Biochemistry was the journal in which I published my first 1st-author paper, and I LOVED the idea of it being open-access. Great idea for a new publishing model and great post.

  3. Jim Till

    wrote on September 18, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Re: "…BioMedCentral, the very first open access journal". I believe that this statement is incorrect. According to its website, BMC was founded in 2000. According to the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the start date for the Bryn Mawr Classical Review (classical studies) was 1990. In the medical field, the start date for the Journal of Medical Internet Research (eHealth/mHealth) was 1999. Not a big lead on BMC, but a lead nontheless.

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