What is the Future of Publishing?

Today’s journal publishing system is the best possible. If you limit yourself to 17th century technology, that is.

Quips like these were sprinkled throughout Jason Priem’s presentation on altmetrics at Duke on Monday. Altmetrics is short for “alternative metrics,” or ways of measuring the impact of a particular author or article rather than the canonical impact factor of journals (which, it turns out, was initially resisted; Thomas Kuhn FTW).

Priem is a doctoral candidate at UNC, and recently started a site called ImpactStory. According to the LSE blog:

ImpactStory is a relaunched version of total-impact. It’s a free, open-source webapp we’ve built (thanks to a generous grant by the Sloan Foundation and others) to help researchers tell these data-driven stories about their broader impacts. To use ImpactStory, start by pointing it to the scholarly products you’ve made: articles from Google Scholar Profiles, software on GitHub, presentations on SlideShare, and datasets on Dryad (and we’ve got more importers on the way).

Then we search over a dozen Web APIs to learn where your stuff is making an impact. Instead of the Wall Of Numbers, we categorize your impacts along two dimensions: audience (scholars or the public) and type of engagement with research (view, discuss, save, cite, and recommend).

Priem’s presentation was informative and engaging. He has clearly spent a good deal of time thinking about academic publishing, and about the scientific undertaking more generally. I particularly liked how he responded to some tough audience questions about potential for gaming the system by re-iterating that we do not want a “Don Draper among the test tubes,” but for better or worse the way that we communicate our ideas makes a difference in how they are received.

If you are interested in hearing more of Jason’s ideas, here is a video of a similar talk he gave at Purdue earlier this year. The altmetrics portion starts around the 25-minute mark.