PubTech Radar Scan: Issue 15

Had a fantastic holiday walking along the Camino Frances mostly switched off from technology, enjoying the simple pleasures of walking, watching the vines being harvested, drinking Rioja in Rioja, and engaging with people who aren’t on a screen. My heart goes out to a young couple we met one of whom has terminal cancer. I really hope they manage to complete their journey to Santigo as planned. 

Here’s my latest update about things that have caught my attention since I got back:

New products and services

  • Project JASPER is a new initiative to preserve open access journals indexed in DOAJ.

  • JSTOR Labs have launched Juncture, a free-to-use, open-source framework for creating engaging visual essays.  Juncture allows you to create free and shareable essays where each paragraph is presented alongside interactive maps, zoomable images, and more. [Blog]

  • PeerRef will be offering open peer review for any manuscript at any stage

  • SSRN has introduced a new paid-for Author Impact Report [H/T: @lisalibrarian]

Platform news


Content linking

  • Hard to believe it’s 2021 and the community is having a conversation about adding links to content but we are. Read Todd Carpenter and then Michael Upshall. I can’t get exercised about this, news publications and magazines have been adding these kinds of links to generate revenue/”add  [questionable] value” for many years. An overlay/annotations model you can turn on and off, like this one below, is cleaner and probably a lot more useful but it’s really hard for users to access unless they know it’s available.

Tech buzzword bingo

  • Metaverse: Benedict Evans on the Metaverse is a good read. Hearst’s new branded blimp “to show the potential in co-branded VR experiences to reach Hearst’s audience of young female gamers” reminds me of the experiments Publishers, Librarians and Scholarly Communications people did in Second Life. I would like to get excited by this kind of tech but I’m not. There are days when simply switching between video conference platforms is enough of a challenge, the need to set up accounts and avatars across multiple platforms and then learn how to interact within each platform doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm! 

  • Micropayments: Axate, a pay-per-article and day-pass payment system for online newspapers and magazines, is crowdfunding.  It will be interesting to see if they can make this work, Blendle used to do something similar but looks like it is now focused on Dutch and German language publications. Too many vested interests within publishing companies for this kind of model to work with academic subscription/news content in the West I think. 

  • Blockchain: Roger Schonfeld interviews Darrell Gunter about his book Blockchain Technologies and AI, read comments at the end of the blog post.

Interesting reads




PubTech Radar Scan: Issue 14

Quick update before I head off on holiday for some much needed R&R.

Shiny new things

Odds and Ends


  • Would it be possible to apply academic publishing tech to the NFT craze and build some kind of Crossref and archiving service for NFTs? “The NFT token you bought either points to a URL on the internet, or an IPFS hash. In most circumstances it references an IPFS gateway on the internet run by the startup you bought the NFT from. Oh, and that URL is not the media. That URL is a JSON metadata file”. More on this Twitter thread

AI and automation

  • Enago is running a survey that aims to explore the role and impact of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and tools on the future of academic publishing.

A couple of events that caught my attention


And finally….

PubTech Radar Scan: Issue 13

Can’t quite believe it’s been six months since I last put together a newsletter, time has flown! Here’s the August edition:

Publishing platforms

  • Octopus has just received £650,000 of funding from the UKRI. From a technology perspective, I hope Octopus manages to reuse some of Coko’s, or OSF’s, or PubPub’s or another platform’s open-source code so there’s a little less inadvertent The People’s Front of Judea stuff going on. From a product perspective, I think the publishing platform aspect of Octopus will be a tough sell (authors have a lot of other options) but there are some interesting ideas here. Part of what Octopus is trying to do reminds me of Euan Adie’s thinking around where he wanted to bring together all the information and comments about a research paper after publication. [I think] Octopus is looking to locate a researcher paper with previous work in the field as well as the grant proposals and other work that has happened pre-publication which could turn into something interesting.

Preprints and disinformation

As arXiv celebrates its 30th birthday and concerns about biomedical preprints rumble on within the publishing community, the next three items are worth digesting in one sitting:

  • Kent Anderson looks at how journals, communications officers, societies, universities are losing their news-making authority and positional leverage as preprint servers become the news sources for science.

  • Michele Avissar-Whiting talks to Everything Hertz about her role as the Editor-in-chief of the Research Square preprint platform and how she weighs up the benefits and costs of potentially problematic preprints during a pandemic

  • Joseph Bernstein has a long piece about Bad News and disinformation in Harper’s Magazine. Are we focusing too much on gatekeepers and algorithms but ignoring the social conditions that allow disinformation to thrive?


  • SciHub is crowdfunding to stay afloat and develop further: “Sci-Hub engine will [be] powered by artificial intelligence. Neural Networks will read scientific texts, extract ideas and make inferences and discover new hypotheses”.

  • John Hubbard discusses why Sci-Hub Belongs on Your Library’s “Databases A-Z” List.  My personal view is that SciHub has acted as a safety valve for paywalled content over the years and has relieved some of the pressure on publishers to switch to OA. If a researcher can quickly and easily get the articles they need via a simple workaround, they’re unlikely to get agitated enough to start campaigning for OA.

AI, automation and data

  • Andy Tay looks at AI-powered writing tools for Nature Index and mentions an experiment by Writefull that “involves feeding an abstract into an AI tool, which generates a paper title based on the input. This function can enhance title readability, draw readership to the abstract and make the article more visible to search engines” which could be useful.

  • Playing around with text paraphrasers to generate and then search for “tortured phrases” is a fascinating and disturbing way to lose yourself for a couple of hours. Take a definition for something like “Stratified random sampling is a method for sampling from a population whereby the population is divided into subgroups…”, run it through a text paraphraser to get something like “Stratified irregular testing may be a strategy for inspecting from a populace whereby the populace is separated into subgroups…” then you google anything that looks a bit tortured, such as “ Stratified irregular testing ” and see what comes up.

  • What happens when a dataset is deemed problematic by the machine learning community, activists, the media? Kenny Peng, Arunesh Mathur, Arvind Narayanan look at this incredibly complex issue. The answer may entail more long-term community curation and restrictive licenses.

  • Michael Upshall discusses How to improve Peer Review through more structured reviews. Which reminded me of a rather neat project by the ACM SIGSOFT Paper and Peer Review Quality Initiative to generate “empirical standards for research methods commonly used in software engineering” see also their documents which give examples of what reviewers should be looking out for and perhaps more interestingly, lists invalid criticisms for different types of studies. I would have thought that a platform like Octopus will need some automated ‘help’ to try to ensure the research (and comments) on the platform are ok and these kinds of standards could form the basis for automated checking.

Odds and Ends

PubTech Radar Scan: Issue 12

Shiny new things

News and other interesting things


  • I am really enjoying watching Scholarcy and Scite develop their products in public. Not everything works out but it’s great to watch them trying things out and figuring out what users want. Perhaps this is why I let out such a sigh when I read Kent Anderson’s latest posts about peer review and indexing of Wellcome Open Research. Kent raises some good points but I think we need to cut these services some slack as they work through their ideas. As Bec Evans put in a 2017 post on The ideas paradox: why publishers fail to innovate. “Don’t become a cynical old so-and-so. Acknowledge your own bias, and counter it with openness to new ideas and systems to test with users. If an idea is any good — it will resonate with customers who are the experts in what they want.” I think these new publishing models are resonating with researchers but there are problems. Even preprint advocates have been disappointed at the COVID-related junk churned out and placed on preprint servers (around 20 mins in). I like James Heathers’ colourful comments about how to hold authors accountable for the “dumbshit” that they have published over the last 6-7 months. What will the community decide to do with flawed research that doesn’t pass peer review, especially research that has already gone through a form of peer review to get funding? It is retracted and hidden away, it is left orphaned on preprint servers or funder sites, or does the community do something else with it? 

  • The comments section of this Scholarly Kitchen article about Why Publishers still don’t prioritize Researchers is a sobering community written explanation of the problems of trying to innovate within academic publishing.

  • Nancy Robert has a short piece on why Publishers are underinvested in core operating systems where Nancy comments that publishers often have “a binary approach in its evaluation of projects – they are either a complete success or a failure, and there is not often a willingness to take on risk with the attitude that failure represents a real opportunity to learn.”

  • On a much more positive note, JMIR and Gunther Eysenbach have [quietly] launched some really interesting initiatives over the years so I am really excited to see what will come out of JMIR’s new appointments which include Adrian Stanley, Lisa Cuevas Shaw, Michael Shepard

  • Meta also has a nice article about the process of building prototypes in collaboration with researchers. Things have been quiet at Meta recently so I hope this is the start of something new.

Events and opportunities

And finally…

Couldn’t resist linking to this from Trish Greenhalgh:

PubTech Radar Scan 11: Trends for 2021

This issue focuses on Academic Publishing Tech Trends for 2021 but it’s impossible not to mention the news that Wiley have acquired Hindawi. There is so much that could be said, and is being said, about the acquisition but tonight my thoughts are with the staff. Hindawi has an awesome team of dedicated people who moved quickly to do inventive things – I hope that magic isn’t extinguished by the constraints that will likely come from being part of a much larger organisation.  

Academic publishing typically moves at the pace of a snail 🐌 so predicting trends isn’t all that difficult (famous last words!) but here are my top five Academic Publishing Tech Trends for 2021, let me know what you think.

1. Preprints suffer an identity crisis

I think 2021 will be the year when traditional publishers embrace preprints but do so on their own terms by switching the workflow from the idealised:

preprint > peer review > submit to journal > peer review > publish in journal
submit to journal > preprint on publisher server > peer review > publish in journal

Preprinting at the same time as submitting isn’t new, see this and this, but I think a significant number of journal submission systems will make this easier by including an option to preprint, much like PLOS do now, but the preprint server will be tied to the publisher’s preferred/owned preprint service.

2. Traditional publishers focus on digital science/open science solutions

Pressure on the subscription model and long term uncertainty around OA revenues means that publishers will chase any new digital/open science solutions that come their way. It’s classic blue ocean strategy. This trend isn’t new and Elsevier is ahead of the pack but potential new investment opportunities seem limited so publishers will have to build rather than buy innovation.  With University budgets likely to be tight for the next year or two I would expect publishers to work hard on land and expand type programs so that they are ready to go with new services when budgets do pick up.

3. Production workflows are quietly automated

The push to reduce costs and speed up time to publication will lead to increasing automation of production workflows but very little of this will be publicised. Publishers will build and buy solutions as needed. The solutions out there, e.g. Exeter Premedia’s Kryiadocs, Integra’s rapid content production solutions,  Cactus Communications suite of products which includes Unsilo Technical Checks,  Deanta’s Lanstad,  KGL’s Smart Suite 2.0,  AJE/Research Square’s services and many others will improve rapidly as the technology improves and more people use them.

4. More consolidation

Society Publishing has been consolidating for many years and there are no signs that this is slowing down. See for example Wiley managing the IET’s transition to OA. Long standing problems at HighWire, their acquisition by MPS, and the strength of Atypon’s platform resulted in AAAS moving to Wiley’s Atypon platform and PNAS due to move in 2021. In October Wiley’s Jay Flynn said that “roughly half the world’s academic and scholarly articles were moving on Wiley’s platforms”, Wiley’s acquisition of Hindawi will add a few more.

5. Inundated with innovation (I hope!)

Consolation, the move away from subscriptions and the pandemic has led to a number of redundancies which I hope will lead to a wave of Redundant-Preneurs starting something new. I ❤️ what the Digital Science stable, Morressier (about time for an exit?), Scholarcy, SciencePod, SciScore, Scite, and others are doing but it would be good to see some new faces. Maybe 2021 will be the year for Research Rabbit and DataSeer? It’s been a while since something really big, like ResearchGate, has launched.

5 weaker signals for 2021:

  1. Concerns about publisher privacy and data grabs will continue to rumble along but will get lost in the outrage about the enormous volumes of data being scooped up by EdTech providers.

  2. Automated summary tech (e.g. Semantic Scholar’s TLDRs, SciencePod Summaries, Scholarcy’s solutions) will improve and more publishers will start to experiment but it’s some way off from becoming mainstream

  3. Paid for promotion of scientific research will start to raise concerns but given that it’s in the interests of almost everyone in the publishing food chain (researchers, funders, universities, librarians, publishers, etc.) to ensure that research is disseminated as widely, and in as positive light, as possible it’s hard to see who is going to complain unless someone cocks up badly.   

  4. Concerns about Wiley’s ownership and the dominance of the Atypon platform will continue to be voiced, especially if the platform goes down again, but there aren’t many options that offer a similar level of service. A "Nobody ever got fired for buying Atypon" situation perhaps?

  5. Smaller publishers will start to become concerned about the digital dividends bigger publishers are gaining from automation and there will be an increasing digital divide between the haves and have nots. However, existential concerns about business models and ensuring revenue from OA rather than subscriptions will push technology concerns to the back of the mind.


A plug for an idea 💡 I am working on with Heather Staines and Ruth Wells. PubLunch is a free 1-1 networking service for publishing people to help people make new & interesting connections. Sign up here: If we get enough interest we’ll work on the details and make it happen.

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