We need to replace our outdated and undemocratic publishing system with one which is free to read and publish, reliable, archival, flexible and democratically governed. We propose to do so with a two layer system. The foundational layer is a commonly owned, distributed infrastructure that will maintain a freely and openly accessible database built on a flexible graph structure to allow new and arbitrary methods of publishing and scholarly productivity. The services layer will be provided by a number of third parties building on this flexible infrastructure.
Neuromatch is a grassroots organization that made its name serving the scientific community through democratizing access to science and education. Our expertise is in building and supporting scalable scientific communities using a network of volunteers and technology, utilizing our unique algorithmic content-based matching of scientists and scientific work. We have shown that incredible, mutually supportive and self-sustaining communities can emerge when technology is designed to empower them. We believe this model can be extended to other parts of research life, and that democratizing research will make it better for everyone. Not only that, but that the conditions are right to make fundamental changes to the way we work.
Publishing is one of the least innovative and democratic aspects of research. Under the current model of scholarly publishing, knowledge is either hidden away behind the ability to pay (subscription model), or alternatively made available to all but only if the authors pay exorbitant article processing charges (APCs) that only well funded researchers can afford. Not only that, but since publishers compete on prestige rather than price or features, we can expect little to change for the better if we leave it to them.
We believe that the time is right for researchers to take control of one of the fundamental parts of research infrastructure - the publishing system - to ensure that it serves their needs (and the needs of the wider public) and can evolve and improve over time.
A publishing system should be:
We propose to separate publishing into two layers. The foundation is a commonly owned publishing infrastructure (democratically governed). A coalition of research institutions (university libraries etc.) will fund and maintain a decentralized database that is mirrored across multiple servers, ensuring reliability and archivability. Read access to this database will be fully open and free, and write access will be made as widely available as possible consistent with maintaining security and certain standards (free to read and publish). This database will hold all the core scholarly content, including articles, reviews, comments, and metadata (see below for more details). On top of this foundation, multiple independent third parties will build different services and models of publishing. Access to the core data is free and interoperable, so content made using one service or model will be available in others (flexible).
The core database will use a graph data format. Nodes on the graph will either correspond to items of content such as articles, reviews or comments, or to users, groups of users or institutions such as journals or universities. In addition to nodes, the graph contains labeled links between nodes indicating relationships, for example “X is-a-review-of Y”, “A is-an-author-of Y”, “J endorses X”.
This data structure is rich enough to represent traditional peer review and publishing workflows (see diagram below) as well as to experiment with new approaches such as post-publication peer review (which just changes the order that nodes and links are added to the graph).
We cannot enumerate all the possible third party services that will build on such an infrastructure, because the whole point is to allow for unforeseen innovation, however we can give some examples of services that we intend to provide or expect others to provide.
Neuromatch will use grant-based income to fund initial development of the infrastructure and some initial third party service offerings. Sustainable long-term funding will be from coalition organizations paying an annual fee (based on usage, ability to pay, etc.).
It’s not enough to have a good system, there needs to be a plan to build and grow support for it, especially given the strong career incentives to publish work in the traditional journal system. Our plan includes:
We look forward to sharing more with you soon. If you would be interested in testing the system, volunteering, or would like to get involved in any way, please register your interest with our signup form. Or, contact us by email. We would particularly love to hear from university libraries and funders interested in creating an open publishing mandate.