As we are nearing its end, it seems fair to say that 2011 was a great year for peaceful revolutions. First of all, the many pivotal transformations in North Africa excited and spurred watershed changes in parts of the world that – to those looking from the outside – seemed doomed to be run by dictators. Similarly, and perhaps inspired by this, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread to cities throughout the US and Europe: my personal favorite is ‘Occupy Winschoten’, where about 40 people demonstrated this October ‘for change’ at the local bank building of this 18,000 pop. town in the far Northeast of Holland [1, in Dutch]. These revolutions are possibly caused, and certainly enabled by the ubiquitous presence of information technologies and access to unprecedented knowledge and communication channels. As Zbigniew Brzezinski put it: “The nearly universal access to radio, television and increasingly the Internet is creating a community of shared perceptions… Millions of students are revolutionaries-in-waiting, already semi-mobilized in large congregations, connected by the Internet.” 
In our own area of scholarly communication, 2011 also seems to be a transformative year for coordinating and creating lasting change in the way we publish science and the humanities. I attended seven events this year – and know of at least three more – that not just discussed, but concretely helped shape and accelerate the rate of change in scholarly publishing (see list at the bottom). At each event, I learned about many new efforts, and everywhere, there was shared mood of excitement about the change afoot. Overall, I felt a sense that we are collectively transforming how the vast collection of knowledge in science, medicine, and the humanities available online can be accessed and integrated, and who has access to it. Through individual and joint efforts by all the parties in the information cycle – scientists, authors, editors, publishers, data repositories, libraries and software producers, and the lay public – we are developing tools and opportunities for creating, sharing and accessing knowledge in a way that improves science, medicine and the humanities, and allows new members to participate in these endeavors, including ‘the South’ and the general public.
This year of transformation started with a workshop in San Diego entitled ‘Beyond the PDF’, (see also an earlier blog post ). One of the great insights, and outcomes, of the workshop to me was that in an open discussion between scientists, librarians and publishers, we agreed that there is value is the services each of us offers, and it is a good idea to sit down and work together on a model that will enable sustained and efficient forms of publishing, going forward. We did not solve the closed/open access debate, but at least we were openly starting it and seeing many examples of innovation in scholarly publishing that include a role for many traditional, and several new parties.
In May, I attended an event at Harvard where one of the focal areas was how, in this day and age, the value and impact of a scientist can truly be assessed. The Provost of Harvard was one of the key participants here, and it was fascinating to think about the challenge that someone faces who can hire basically anyone in any field. What are the qualities you look for, and how are these measured? Educational skills, managerials skills and a charismatic personality are obviously all good traits for a full-tenured Harvard professor to have, but how do you weigh these against more traditional measures – or even assess them, in the first place? What role does technology play in expressing and accessing scientific impact on a personal, departmental or institutional level?
In June, the Elsevier Computer Science publishing group organized the Executable Papers Challenge in Singapore. This well-attended workshop at ICCS2011 offered an impressive overview of the breadth and maturity of efforts that various groups have developed to enable the execution and validation of software and data inside publications, and offered an exciting glimpse into a future where you don’t just read a paper – you run it.
And last week I attended a meeting on Transforming Scholarly Publishing, co-hosted by Microsoft and Harvard (see also Dave De Roure’s blog, ). One of the most amazing parts of this workshop was the mind-boggling overview of tools given during the first day, a whirlwind tour of 19 tools, platforms and solutions that are currently transforming scholarly publishing. De Roure’s breakout group added to this list by creating list of a further set tools – a list well worth following, and helping to maintain .
But the most intense meeting for me this year was one I helped organise: the Dagstuhl Perspectives workshop in August dubbed (during the meeting) “Force11: the Future of Research Communication and e-Scholarship 2011”. Held at the spectacularly brain-stimulating Dagstuhl Castle, and sponsored by the Leipzig Institute, Force11 was a meeting of scholars, librarians, archivists, publishers and research funders who, individually and collectively, aim to bring about a change in scholarly communication through the effective use of information technology. As a key outcome this month we published the ‘Force11 Manifesto’, a description of the issues those at the workshop defined that impede change, and a vision and plan on how to overcome these impediments . This vision focuses on two aspects of the scholarly publication: firstly, exploring and experimenting with new forms, and secondly, developing new models of access, credit and attribution.
The first part entails experimenting with new, enriched forms of scholarly publications consisting of rich and interconnected relationships between knowledge, claims and data. It requires the creation of a platforms to create and share computationally executable components, such as workflows, computer code and statistical calculations as scientifically valid pieces of content, and the development of an infrastructure that allows these components to be made accessible, reviewed, referenced and attributed. To do this, we have to develop best practices for depositing research datasets in repositories that enable linking to relevant documents and have high compliance levels driven by appropriate incentives, resources and policies. For the scientific domain, new forms of publication must facilitate the reproducibility of results: the ability to preserve and re-perform executable workflows or services. This will require us to reconstruct the context within which these objects were created and track them as data objects that evolve through time. In this way, the content of communications about research will follow the same evolutionary path that we have seen for general web content: a move from the static to the increasingly dynamic, and from top-down articles to grass-roots blogs. It also means revisiting the narrative structure of scholarly papers, and identifying portions where this narrative may be more structured for improved computational access, without losing the strong cognitive impact that a good story can have.
The second component of the Force11 vision requires changes to the complex socio-technical and commercial ecosystem of scholarly publishing. In particular, to obtain the benefits that networked knowledge promises, we have to explore reward systems that encourage scholars and researchers to participate and contribute to these efforts. This means acknowledging that a journal impact factor is a poor surrogate for measuring the true impact of scholarship and increasingly irrelevant in a world of disaggregated knowledge units of vastly varying granularity. It requires deriving new mechanisms that allow us to measure the true contribution a particular record of scholarship makes to the world’s store of knowledge. It also requires all those involved in the scholarly information life cycle to acknowledge that current business models are no longer adequate to support the rich, variegated, integrated and disparate knowledge offerings which new technologies enable, new scholarship requires, and new players in the scholarly field (including non-Western countries and the general public) deserve. In a collaboration involving scholars, publishers, libraries, funding agencies, academic institutions, and software developers, we need to develop models that can enable this exciting future to develop, while offering sustainable forms of existence for the constituent parties.
A great outcome attending of attending all of these meetings was that I was approached at the Microsoft workshop last week by several librarians who want to join Force11, and working together to redefine ‘the research library of the future’. As with the Northern African overthrown governments, as we create new systems to create and access science and the humanities we need to build up new structures to govern and keep track of them. But there seem to be a great amount of ideas, tools, and enthusiasm to do this work, and a willingness and interest to do this as a collaborative effort. I am very much looking forward to strengthening the connections made this year, and working on plans to help build these fundamentally new platforms, in 2012.
 “Are We Witnessing the Start of a Global Revolution?” Global Research, January 27, 2011: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?aid=22963&context=va
 Blog on beyond the PDF: http://elsevierlabs.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/back-from-beyond/
 See Dave De Roure’s blog at http://blogs.nature.com/eresearch/2011/10/
 Tools list by Dave De Roure at http://msrworkshop.tumblr.com/tagged/platforms
 Current version of the Force11 manifesto is at http://bit.ly/force11; website is http://force11.org
Ten workshops about transforming scholarly communication in 2011 (not an exhaustive list):
− January: A semantic, molecular future: http://www.rsc.org/ConferencesAndEvents/conference/alldetails.cfm?evid=107519
− January: Beyond the PDF – https://sites.google.com/site/beyondthepdf/
− May: Harvard eScience Workshop – http://osc.hul.harvard.edu/dss/program
− May: Royal Dutch Academy Open Data Day - http://www.knaw.nl/Pages/DEF/30/303.html
− June: Executable Paper Challenge - http://www.executablepapers.com/
− June: Alt-Metrics: Tracking scholarly impact on the social Web - http://altmetrics.org/workshop2011/
− August: Force11 – http://force11.org/
− August: Data Attribution and Citation Workshop – http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/brdi/PGA_064019
− September: Science Online London – http://www.scienceonlinelondon.org/
− October: Microsoft Research eScience workshop – http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/events/escience2011-scholarly-communications/agenda.aspx
Anita de Waard, November 4, 2011