Real innovation in scientific publishing

Many attempts have been made to re-imagine a scientific article, but just adding semantic markup or visualizing the document in a different way has never quite felt right. Previous efforts have felt like they’re just trying to prop up a print idiom whose usefulness is limited in the new medium of the web. Cameron Neylon has come up with a re-imagining that’s truly useful and truly innovative. The idea is to break down a publication into its component parts, so that the smallest unit of publication is no longer a document. This allows publication to move beyond the limitations of the print era and enables the info overload management practices that work best online to be applied to research output.

For me, a paper is an aggregation of objects. It contains, text, divided up into sections, often with references to other pieces of work. Some of these references are internal, to figures and tables, which are representations of data in some form or another. The paper world of journals has led us to think about these as images but a much better mental model for figures on the web is of an embedded object, perhaps a visualisation from a service like Many Eyes, Swivel, and Tableau Public. Why is this better? It is better because it maps more effectively onto what we want to do with the figure. We want to use it to absorb the data it represents, and to do this we might want to zoom, pan, re-colour, or re-draw the data. But we want to know if we do this that we are using the same underlying data, so the data needs a home, an address somewhere on the web, perhaps with the journal, or perhaps somewhere else entirely, that we can refer to with, Science in the Open » Blog Archive » The future of research communication is aggregation, May 2010