Bold ideas and critical thoughts on science.

3 questions to Jeremy M. Berg about the future of scholarly publishing.

What is scientific impact?

Scientific impact reflects the influence that a finding or publication has on science or on society. Such impact can be short term or long term and it is important not to emphasize one over the other to too great an extent. For example, a publication that reports positive results from a clinical trial that demonstrates the efficacy of a potential new therapy could have considerable short-term impact, facilitating the development of a new treatment into clinical practice and directly affecting the lives of many individuals. On the other hand, a publication that describes a new concept or mechanism may not have much short-term impact but could transform how researchers think about their fields and drive other research in completely new directions for years or decades to come.

If a great bulk of academic articles is never cited once, is the article still the right way to communicate scientific research?

While it is true that many published articles are never cited, this does not mean that scientific articles are not the right way to communicate research findings. Articles may not be cited for many different reasons. First, some scientific publications are not truly research publications but relatively short articles that offer perspectives on one or more research findings and these many not be cited, even if they are well read. Second, many research publications cover topics that partially or largely overlap with other publications and modern citation practices generally limit the number of articles that are cited. Finally, some academic articles cover topics of limited interest or are of relatively low quality. With all of that said, research articles should (and will) remain as an important mechanism for communication scientific research results.

What will be the most dramatic change in how we conduct and communicate research in 10 years?

Scientific research will continue to become more and more interdisciplinary with concepts and technologies from one field being used by researchers in other, traditionally distinct, fields. This will make many research papers quite complicated with a number of different components. In order to communicate these results, it is likely that more open data sharing, data analysis, and commenting formats will evolve to allow readers to provide their insights to one another.