Tuesday, 4 June 2019

'Making the case for embracing microPublications: Are they a way forward for scholarly publishing?'

Albert Einstein said: “An academic career, in which a person is forced to produce scientific writings in great amounts, creates a danger of intellectual superficiality”. 

Researchers have been working with the pressures of ‘Publish or Perish’ for decades. The default response is to question the value of microPublications that are produced as a result. But what about when microPublications are carefully defined; peer review is stringently completed; and they enable publishers to more efficiently produce the ‘longer story’ research articles with pre-validated research outputs? Are there largely unknown opportunities and values to be gained quickly? Can microPublications enable synthesizing and distilling of information and integrate this information in established repositories to create a more meaningful and greater corpus of knowledge - dare we say, global knowledgebase?

In this blog we hear from scientific curators with new roles as editors of a microPublication, and from a publisher who encourages this new publishing genre.

Chair: Heather Staines, Head of Partnerships, MIT Knowledge Futures Group.


  • Daniela Raciti, Scientific Curator for Wormbase and Managing Editor, microPublication Biology
  • Karen Yook, Scientific Curator for Wormbase and Managing Editor, microPublication Biology
  • Tracey DePellegrin, Executive Director, Genetics Society of America

Heather Staines: As an historian and former acquiring editor for books, I’ve long thought of articles as short-form publications and have struggled with the ‘less is more’ school of thought. When I started to hear about microPublications a few years back, I was intrigued. I wondered how researchers would define the scope of these postings, how they would be viewed within their respective disciplines, and how they would fit within the larger scholarly communications infrastructure. I was thrilled to be asked to moderate the ALPSP webinar, to get to hear directly from the folks at microPublication Biology and at the Genetics Society of America. Here is a bit of what I’ve learned in preparation for the session.

Question 1: How would you define a microPublication?

microPublication Biology: A microPublication is a peer-reviewed report of findings from a single experiment. A microPublication typically has a single figure and/or results table, the text is brief, but has sufficient relevant background to give the scientific community an understanding of the experiment and the findings, and there is sufficient methodological & reagent information and references that the experiment can be replicated by others.

Genetics Society of America (GSA): I’ve got to agree with my colleagues on this one. I think one key here is that the findings in microPublication Biology are in fact peer-reviewed. They’re also discoverable, so they’re not lost in the literature. And I love the idea that these are compact yet powerful components scientists can build upon.

Question 2: What was the driving force behind the decision to move forward with microPublications?

microPublication Biology: There are two driving forces. The first is to increase the entry of research finding into the public domain. These findings are of value to the scientific community, they give the authors credit for their work, and publication fulfils the agreement researchers make with funding agencies (and taxpayers) to disseminate their findings. The second is to efficiently incorporate new data into scientific databases, such as WormBase. Scientific databases organize, aggregate and display data in ways that have tremendous value for researchers, greatly facilitating experimentation (increasing efficiency, decreasing cost). Databases are most useful when they are comprehensive; the microPublication platform allows efficient and economical incorporation of information into databases. We hope that in the long term, other scientific publishers will come on board to directly deposit data from publications into the authoritative databases.

GSA: GSA is supportive of microPublications for several reasons. First, incorporating new data into scientific databases is critical. Researchers in our fields depend on model organism databases like WormBase, FlyBase, Saccharomyces Genome Database (SGD), the Zebrafish Information Network (zfin), and others, many of which are supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and included in the Alliance of Genome Resources. These databases are critical in understanding the genetic and genomic basis of human biology, health, and disease, and are curated by experts in the field. The microPublication platform helps authors by incorporating their findings into these databases in a way that’s seamless and painless for busy scientists. Second, microPublication Biology reduces the barrier of entry for scientists hoping to freely share their peer-reviewed research in a credible venue. Also, it’s terrific that microPublication provides the opportunity to publish a negative result. Negative results are important, yet too few journals publish them. The bottom line is that microPublication Biology addresses a need in scholarly publishing, serving authors and readers alike by filling a gap existing journals don’t serve.

Question 3: How does the peer review process differ, if at all, from the peer review of longer articles?

microPublication Biology: The peer-review process is similar to other journals, with a few distinguishing features. First, since the publication is limited in scope and length, it is simple and quick to review. Second, the publication criteria are straightforward – is the work experimentally sound? - does the data support the conclusion? – is there sufficient information to allow replication? – and, are the findings of use to the community? The last point goes along with the categorical assignment of the microPublication as a New finding, Finding not previously shown (unpublished result in a prior publication), Negative result, Replication – successful, Replication – unsuccessful, and Commodity validation.

GSA: Because I’m not an editor at microPublication Biology, I can only generalize here. But I will use this opportunity to underscore the importance of high-quality peer review as well as editors who are well-respected leaders in the field. One glance at the editorial board of microPublication Biology shows that these scientists are in a position to guide the careful review and decision on submitted data in their respective fields. I also find the categorial assignments interesting – especially the idea of a successful (or unsuccessful) replication.

Question 4: What do you see as the future for microPublications?

microPublication Biology: Huge! This publishing model will help change how researchers communicate with one another, how a researcher’s accomplishments are evaluated and tracked, and provide an earlier step for budding researchers to be introduced to scholarly communication. The microPublication vehicle easily lends itself to expansion into entirely new fields. However, such expansions need to be driven by the field’s scientific community (the group that will submit manuscripts, peer review the manuscripts, and maintain community standards).

GSA: The sky’s the limit. I agree with everything (above). In times where we’re trying to encourage grant review panels and others to evaluate scientists by the data they’re publishing (rather than the impact factor of the journal in which the article appears), such venues as microPublication Biology provide a chance for researchers to get credit for contributions that might not otherwise be recognized. And that’s progress!


Heather Staines: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our panellists for taking the time to weigh in on these questions. I hope you will now agree with me that microPublications provide an interesting and useful twist on the traditional journal publication model.

To learn more, please register for the ALPSP webinar: 'Making the case for embracing microPublications: Are they a way forward for scholarly publishing?'

Wednesday 26 June.
16:00-17:00 BST, 11.00-12:00 EDT, 17:00-18:00 CEST, 08:00-09:00 PDT.

The webinar is ideal for: publishing executives, editors, librarians, funders and researchers.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Growing your content’s family tree: Life after primary sale

So much effort in our industry goes into new content: the launch, the debut, the first run. Yet, there is a complex, profitable second life for content after it serves its initial purpose. Often, it is up to publishers to become the guardians of that second act, spawning “children” from the original content that can flourish after primary sale.

Content creators and publishers shape the primary “parent” work in a certain format, for a certain audience, so it can be challenging for them to accept that the world might reinterpret that work in ways they can’t control. The use of child content can be so unpredictable and so detached from the original work that publishers might find it impertinent, trivial, or undermining.

Like a dysfunctional family, some publishers are stricter than others when it comes to sending child content out into the world for fresh creative or commercial endeavors. It’s a balancing act for publishers to protect the value with which they have been entrusted, without stifling the possibility of a productive future. The more inspiring the original work, the more likely that it will yield offspring that flourish beyond the scope of the primary sale. As surprising as the opportunities may appear, reinterpretation of child content can produce immense value to publishers who are open to the concept.

Over the past several years, I have been exposed to companies seeking reuse of creative output of all kinds. Excerpts, charts, and graphs are common, but we also hear about requests for instructional videos, posters, and secondary text created to support website features. These requests are often very difficult to process. I sometimes see bias on the part of content creators and publishers for the primary work to be protected just as it is, cut off from the potential of a second life. Beyond that, the creators of the content can be hard to find, and the intended reuse is hard to describe. When not a lot of money is involved, it’s easy for the trail to go dead.

Taking the widest view of the “permissions” landscape, which my job at Copyright Clearance Center allows me to do, I encourage creators - and custodians of creative works - to embrace the inspiration that others receive from an original work. The inspiration may seem “less than” because it has a different audience, format, or purpose, than the original, but that contribution could take the achievement to a new realm.

I don’t mean that creators should abandon control, allowing every proposed reuse. I’m also not implying that creators should not be compensated for their contributions. Rather, creativity should be encouraged as the seed of further achievement. When creating child content will cause no harm to the parent content, why not embrace the experiment of that creative output? Consider the options carefully, but trust that the intrinsic value of the parent content will be amplified by the life of the child content. If the significance is not apparent to you, take that as testament to the power of independent thought.

Unusual second lives of content in mainstream media

Parent content
Child content
Scene transition cartoons from variety show The Tracey Ullman Show
Television series The Simpsons
AOL’s trademarked email greeting sound, “You’ve got mail.”
Romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail
Nashville-area commercials featuring simpleton Ernest P. Worrell
Ernest children’s television show and nine-part movie series
The Pink Panther cartoon character
Owens Corning building insulation
Star Wars movie series
Scented candles, aquariums and terrariums, a grocery line of fresh fruit, furniture
Disney theme park rides
The Country Bears and The Pirates of the Caribbean movie series
Trading cards and sticker packs
B-movies Mars Attacks and The Garbage Pail Kids Movie
Board games
Movies Clue, Battleship and Ouija
Smartphone apps
Movies Angry Birds and The Emoji Movie
The Lego Movie series, UglyDolls, Bratz: The Movie, G.I. Joe, Transformers movie series, Toy Story movie series, My Little Pony television series
Television show theme songs
Ringtones for smartphones
“It’s the Hard Knock Life” from Broadway musical Annie
Hip hop track “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” by Jay-Z
Theme song from television series MacGyver
Hip hop track “Put Ya Signs” by Three 6 Mafia
Windows 98 chimes and tones
Hip hop track “Windows Media Player” by Charles Hamilton

Jamie Carter

Jamie currently works as manager of publisher account management at Copyright Clearance Center, where she has worked since 2011, finding opportunities to license content and increase royalty revenue.

Jamie’s publishing career began at Arcadia Publishing, a UK publisher with an office in Dover, New Hampshire. Hers was a start-up division; Jamie acquired titles, did production work and editing, and even sold books on the road from time to time.

In the earliest days of the internet, she worked at a web-design company, then worked for six years as a manufacturing buyer at Heinemann in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Jamie moved back online in 2007, when she became product manager at Publisher Alley, a subscription website for analysis of book sales. Publisher Alley was owned by Baker & Taylor at the time, and is now owned by EBSCO. In this position, she was the editor of Alley Talk, a free companion site for Publisher Alley featuring bestseller listings and industry white papers.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

AI, Blockchain, Open Source - separating the value from the hype

AI, Blockchain and Open Source are terms which continually grab attention, but are they merely buzzwords or will they really disrupt our industry? Ahead of our planned series of webinars on this subject, Jennifer Schivas of 67 Bricks and Nisha Doshi of Cambridge University Press consider how to distinguish hype from reality, and why publishers should care...

AI, Blockchain and Open Source have been generating a lot of attention in the press over the past few years, and high profile announcements from the likes of eLife, Elsevier and Digital Science generate a lot of excitement, but can these technologies really help us improve publishing processes and enhance customer experience?  Can they save us money or help us offer new products and services to authors and researchers?  If so, how do we engage at the right level and the right speed?  How do we ensure the opportunity, if there is one, doesn’t become a threat?

Working at the coal face of publishing innovation means that these are questions we wrestle with on a day-to-day basis, and when we spoke to others at the 2018 ALPSP conference we realised we weren’t alone. Across the industry many of us are exploring options, running pilots, launching products, platforms and systems and putting in place strategies that utilise these new technologies. Some are dipping their toes in the water, while others are diving right in. However, at the other end of the spectrum there are those who dismiss these technologies as mere trends or buzzwords: AI has been around since the 1950s afterall, and isn’t Blockchain regularly described as “just a slow database”?!

So, who is right and who is wrong?  This debate will be at the heart of the forthcoming series of ALPSP webinars, in which we’ll invite industry experts to examine each technology in turn to help us separate the hype from the reality.

In each webinar we will include a short, jargon-free introduction to the technologies and discuss examples of where they are already being used in our industry. We’ll then assess their potential for positive change as well as considering alternative courses of action - which could even include “do nothing” - and look at the recommended first steps publishers can take to begin capitalising on opportunities.

We believe that it is important for publishers to engage with these technologies and make clear decisions with their eyes open. It is not usually wise to invest in cutting edge technology for technology’s sake alone, however there are ways to trial them without undue expense or risk; R&D programmes, pilot projects or collaborative partnerships can all work well.  We will explore how these might be set up to test the waters and release some early benefits before making a major investment or committing to a long-term path.

Join us to start a clear conversation and to begin to separate the hype from the reality. You’ll come away with a better understanding of what these technologies offer in the short, medium and long term, how they might align with wider product, platform or technology strategy, and if and how they might help meet customer needs. There will never be one single answer or one size fits all… so we look forward to some lively conversation!

To find out more about the planned webinars or to book your place please visit https://www.alpsp.org/Webinars/What-is-Hype/62872

Jennifer Schivas Jennifer Schivas is Head of Strategy and Industry Engagement at 67 Bricks, a technology company that helps publishers become more data driven www.67bricks.com

Nisha Doshi
Nisha Doshi is Senior Digital Development Publisher at Cambridge University Press, where she leads the digital publishing team across academic books and journals www.cambridge.org