2011 retrospective: meetings on the future of research communications

What a year it has been!  Four key meetings were held during 2011, bringing together academics, computer scientists and scholarly publishers to discuss the future of scholarly communication.  The first of these, a workshop entitled Beyond the PDF, organized and hosted in January 2011 by Philip Bourne at the University of California, San Diego, itself built on an earlier HyPER workshop organized in May 2010 in Amsterdam by Anita de Waard of Elsevier Labs (de Waard et al. 2009, [1]).  It was followed by a meeting entitled Beyond Impact, organized by Cameron Neylon of STFC at the Wellcome Trust headquarters in London in May 2011, that considered alternative metrics to the journal impact factor for the evaluation of research – and particularly researcher – merit.  In August 2011, a further meeting on The Future of Research Communication, organized by Phil Bourne of UCSD, Tim Clark of Harvard University, Robert Dale of Macquarie University, Anita de Waard of Elsevier Labs, Ivan Herman of the W3C, Eduard Hovy of the University of Southern California and myself, was held in Germany as a Schloss Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop.  This led to the formation of the Force11 Community dedicated to the improvement of research communication and e-scholarship, and to the publication in October 2011 of the Force11 White Paper (Bourne et al., 2011), that was submitted as evidence both to the Royal Society’s Science as a Public Enterprise project and to the UK Cabinet Office’s public consultation Making Open Data Real.  Finally, in October 2011, Microsoft Research and Harvard University jointly hosted a meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts, entitled Transforming Scholarly Communication, that took these ideas forward.

Additionally, the benefits of Semantic Web technologies for libraries were recently discussed at the 2011 annual Semantic Web in Libraries meeting entitled Scholarly Communication in the Web of Data, held in Hamburg, Germany, in November 2011.

The thinking undertaken at these meetings contributed significantly to the formulation of my paper entitled The Five Stars of Online Journal Articles described in a previous post, and significantly advanced the community’s thinking as a whole both on semantic publishing of journal articles and on the issues surrounding research data publication.

I’m looking forward to what 2012 brings!

[1]  de Waard A, Buckingham Shum S, Carusi A, Park J, Samwald M, and Sándor Á (2009). Hypotheses, Evidence and Relationships: The HypER Approach for Representing Scientific Knowledge Claims. In: Proceedings 8th International Semantic Web Conference, Workshop on Semantic Web Applications in Scientific Discourse (26 Oct 2009, Washington DC.). Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Springer Verlag: Berlin.  http://oro.open.ac.uk/18563/.

Advantages of Ontological Standards in Scholarly Publishing

Scholarly authoring and publishing is in the throes of a revolution, as the full potential of on-line publishing is explored. Semantic publishing is one aspect of this, namely
the use of web and semantic web technologies to enhance a published document such as a journal article so as to enrich its meaning, facilitate its automatic discovery, enable its linking to semantically related articles, provide access to data within the article in actionable form, and allow integration of data between papers [1].

As confirmed by a number of recent initiatives – including the Elsevier Grand Challenge and its Executable Paper Challenge, the Beyond The PDF Workshop, the Beyond Impact Workshop, the First International Workshop about Semantic Publication (SePublica 2011), the upcoming Schloss Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop entitled The Future of Research Communication, and the Special Issue of the Semantic Web Journal on New Models of Semantic Publishing in Science, which is open for submissions until 15 September 2011 – semantic publishing and scholarly citation using web standards are presently two of the most interesting topics within the scientific publishing domain.

Yet, to date, publishers have not adopted web standards for their day-to-day work, but rather employ a variety of proprietary XML-based informational models and document type definitions (DTDs). While such independence was reasonable in the pre-web world of paper publishing, it now appears anachronistic, since publications and their metadata are incompatible, requiring hand-crafted mappings to convert from one to another. For a large community such as publishers, this lack of standard definitions that could be adopted and reused across the entire industry represents losses in terms of money, time and effort.

In contrast, modern web information management techniques employ standards such as RDF and OWL2 to encode information in ways that permit computers to query metadata and integrate web-based information from multiple resources in an automated manner. Since the processes of scholarly communication are central to the practice of science, it is essential that publishers now adopt such standards to permit inference over the entire corpus of scholarly communication represented in journals, books and conference proceedings.

The SPAR (Semantic Publishing and Referencing) Ontologies (http://purl.org/spar/), introduced in previous blog posts [2, 3], are specially tailored to the requirements of authors, publishers and their readers, and form key components of this semantic publishing revolution, as do the tools LODE [4] and Graffoo [5] that permit these (and other) ontologies to be documented and visualized in complementary ways. We commend their use to the scholarly publishing community.

[1] David Shotton, Katie Portwin, Graham Klyne, Alistair Miles David Shotton (2009) Adventures in Semantic Publishing: Exemplar Semantic Enhancements of a Research Article. PLoS Computational Biology 5(4): e1000361. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000361.

[2] David Shotton (2010) Introducing the Semantic Publishing and Referencing (SPAR) Ontologies. JISC Open Citations Blog, 14 October 2010. http://opencitations.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/introducing-the-semantic-publishing-and-referencing-spar-ontologies/.

[3] David Shotton (2011) New web site for the SPAR ontologies. JISC Open Citations Blog, 25 February 2011. http://opencitations.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/new-web-site-for-the-spar-ontologies/.

[4] David Shotton (2011) Using LODE for ontology visualization. JISC Open Citations Blog, 25 February 2011. http://opencitations.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/using-lode-for-ontology-visualization/

[5] David Shotton (2011) Graffoo, a Graphical Framework for OWL Ontologies. JISC Open Citations Blog, 29 June 2011. http://opencitations.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/graffoo-a-graphical-framework-for-owl-ontologies/.

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