Birte Twisselmann on new techologies

Day 2 of the SSP (Society for Scholarly Publishing) meeting started with what was probably the best attended session of the whole event. “Geoff and Kent redux” featured the always entertaining duo of Kent Anderson (Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery) and CrossRef’s Geoff Bilder, who, in their own inimitable fashion, presented their take on what’s going on the web and in the publishing industry—with participation from the audience. Should either of them ever need a job, an alternative career as after dinner speakers might be just the thing.

Elsewhere, people were wondering what a looming generation gap among researchers and its effects on technological savviness may mean for the tools that publishers offer for scientists. Science historian Bruce Lewenstein, molecular biologist Helen Andrews-Polymenis, and industry analyst and content specialist John Blossom took us through a brief history of scholarly publishing. Dr Andrews-Polymenis talked about the challenges of incorporating new media in the communication of basic science. The rise of blogs versus peer reviewed articles has introduced greater informality into science communication—but the jury’s still out about what that may mean for people’s professional reputations (anecdotally, many science bloggers seem to use pseudonyms). And established scientists are asking themselves why they should adopt the new media. So a tension is developing between what the younger generation (the “millennials,” the fully “published” generation, to use the terminology of John Blossom) will demand and what the established generation will accept and use. Blossom talked about “Science, millennials, and the second web,” the latter referring to real time mobile communication of content (“if people don’t benefit it’s not content”), available via a multitude of devices and accessible from anywhere. His example of using Google Wave to create the American Declaration of Independence showed how in a new medium a project can go through peer review, records are kept, attributions are recorded, and the process is documented for posterity. All three speakers seemed to agree, however, that age is not the only deciding factor in whether people adopt new technologies and media or not.

HighWire’s John Sack took over the luncheon spot and managed to capture people’s attention and imagination with a witty and entertaining talk about the challenges of scholarly communication in a post-web world. Like other speakers he raised the question of what trends will matter, and what new technologies will drive us forward into the future. His voice failed him at the end, so he finished his presentation by letting his Kindle e-reader “speak” for him and read the conclusion through the microphone. The effect was a bit eerie and certainly very “virtual,” especially as the speaker was holding up the device himself, but one night imagine a scenario where speakers don’t have to turn up any more at all. Or maybe not.

The concluding session featured all seven currently active “chefs” contributing to the SSP’s Scholarly Kitchen blog (read more). Kent Anderson (yes, again—this year’s meeting was a bit of a Kent show) took over the moderation, and his panel gamely responded to his gently probing questions (“Do you have any regrets about anything you posted?” “No, I am not much given to waking up in the morning feeling regrets about what I have blogged”). An entertaining finale to the event.

Last year’s SSP seemed to have a real bee in its bonnet about employing young people, whereas this year’s big emphasis was on flexibility, individual career development, curiosity, and readiness to refine and move on. That’s a relief..

Birte Twisselmann is a web editor with the BMJ.