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Is This the End?

For centuries, researchers have relied on journal publishers to inform the community about their discoveries, Benchfly's Alan Marnett says. But now that the 21st century is here, it's time to start thinking about the "impending death of scientific journals" and just what kind of "fast-paced, technologically savvy" system might suitably replace them, he adds. Since a researcher's publication record can affect decisions about hiring, compensation, and funding, it's an important aspect of a scientific career. But some scientists have said that journal impact factors aren't accurate representations of a paper's significance. So Marnett says the idea would be not to obliterate the scientific journal itself, but to change the way it is constructed and presented, using modern technologies. Rather than being published on paper, he suggests labs could begin publicizing their papers on their Web sites. Peer review would remain an important part of the process, Marnett adds, but rather than research being reviewed by two or three appointed people, feedback could come from a large online community. "Actions such as rating articles, leaving comments, tracking downloads, counting bookmarks, and quantifying social sharing are all valid, real-time metrics of user response to content," Marnett says. He also suggests that funds no longer used to cover publication costs could be spent instead on essentials for the lab. "The Internet has changed almost every facet of our lives so when it comes to our own profession we shouldn’t be too quick to assume evolution won’t apply to us too," Marnett says.

In a Benchfly poll, 36 percent of respondents indicated that they think journals will no longer be the primary mode for scientific publication in the next 20 years. Thirty-one percent of respondents said the same would happen within a decade.