The digital migration of scientific, technical and medical (STM) journals represents a significant turning point for the scholarly journal field. Moving away from the rigid structure of print publication means publishers can try new ideas. This applies to how much content goes out in each edition, the financial model behind the journal and the schedule on which information is made public. It's certainly possible for academic publishers to go on exactly as they have, just putting out their items as PDFs instead of on paper. However, this would be a missed opportunity - the Internet holds exciting potential for reinvention.
A recent Times Higher Education blog post by contributor Dalmeet Singh Chawla revealed a new tactic in use by some scholars made possible by the rise of e-journals: publishing small pieces of research that don't amount to a full paper. The author explained that this change is speeding up the process of introducing new information to the pool available to scientists. If one new fact will significantly change thought in a field, authors can now make that data available without spending a long time filling out information around it. There are many potential benefits, and some drawbacks, to publishing granular units of research in this way.
Singh explained that the new type of release, dubbed "single figure publications," could help researchers know when their hypotheses have proven incorrect. He noted that the idea has been put forward by scientists William Mobley and Long Do, who based the model on a social network that existed between researchers, wherein they could share data more easily. Turning this from a closed network into an outward-facing facet of the scientific community could improve the practice of science. According to Singh, Mobley posited that these small dispatches could ensure researchers' conclusions and results can be replicated by other teams - a key component of scientific thought.
With the Internet speeding up the delivery of information, micro-journals could open new frontiers for speedy peer review and breakthroughs. Recent years have seen the introduction of several new and important features, setting the interactive STM journal model apart from its paper predecessors. Scientists working with these formats can access information more easily than ever before, testing out colleagues' findings and leaving helpful comments. The development of technology has gone on in parallel with publication-style changes such as the one described above - the two types of evolution can feed one another.
"Interactive journals could point the way to a more accessible era of science."
When content originates in an interactive, digital delivery channel, it can be more inventively formatted than items that begin in print. Researchers can put out their findings as interactive Web pages instead of PDFs, with structures that reflect their processes. Equipped with sharing and commenting features that bring to mind social media, interactive journals could point the way to a more accessible era of science. These developments will have to be accompanied by similar changes in the mindsets and working processes of the academic publishing world, but it appears that evolution is occurring, at least in some cases. The next few years may prove critical and transformative for scientific publications.