Openness

Technically the whole textual creation process including all typing and editing could be open. Furthermore, all commentary and discussion can be open. Certain consequences are related to such openness. Not all versions of a document and discussions are meant to be public. While openness can be seen as a tool for assuring quality and preventing scientific misconduct, at the same time it puts researchers under great pressure. Usually early versions of documents are full of spelling mistakes and errors and not meant to be seen by the public; furthermore, they usually lack approval from all coauthors.

A possible solution allows for some parts of the publication and editing process to take place with limited visibility in a working version. After all authors have approved a version or a revision, this version can become part of the public version (Fig. 5). The step from working version to public version would be based on some internal 'gatekeeping' criteria, such as the discussion and consent of all authors, making the process similar to that of the peer-review process. However, the peerreview is done by people other than the authors themselves and the peer-reviewing process can be organized by a quality-granting authority such as a journal.

Tranclusion, Pull-Requests, and Forking—Lifecycle and History

The lifecycle of a dynamic publication is much harder to define than the life cycle of a static, traditional publication. Concepts such as 'transclusion',[1] 'pullrequests', and 'forking'[2] allow for different kinds of remixing and reuse of earlier publications (Fig. 6). An important feature of dynamic publications is the availability of a history functionality so that older versions of the publication are still available and referencing to the older versions can occur. This might not only be of interest to historians of science, but may also be very valuable in assessing the merits of earlier scientific discoveries and documenting scientific disputes.

Many of these remixing and reuse concepts stem from collaborative software development and many of these are in turn far removed from the current perception of the life cycle of scientific publications. It remains to be seen whether they can be integrated into the scientific publishing culture so that the systems in question benefit from it, and usability, as well as readability, can be assured.

Fig. 6 Dynamic publications allow many novel concepts such as 'forking' (dividing one publication into two branches of working versions), 'transclusion' (reuse of text or images from another publication, potentially with live updates) and 'pull requests' (a certain way of including updates from one forked working version into another: a 'one time transclusion')

Publication Formats

Various publication formats exist. There are books, chapters, abstracts, tweets, reviews, full-papers, and so on. Some publication formats are more likely to benefit from the many remixing concepts of dynamic publications than others. In many science cultures, reviews are constantly being released on similar topics, sometimes on an annual basis. A dynamic publication concept would be ideally suited to providing reviews of current developments: instead of publishing completely novel reviews, reviews could constantly be updated.

Content and Quality Control

The authors as the primary guarantors of quality remain untouched by the concepts of dynamic publications. However, while the pre-publication peer-review of static publications and the decision of editorial boards or publishers assured content in the past, this is more flexible in dynamic publications. An open commenting functionality can be seen as a form of post-publication review. The public pressure that is associated with potentially unmasking comments urges the authors to provide a high standard of output. If the commenting functionality is anonymous it should be clear to all readers that non-qualified comments may occur; at the same time, an anonymous commenting functionality may encourage true criticisms.

In actual implementations of dynamic publications, visibility of transclusions as well as pull-requests has to be assured—otherwise misunderstanding of the actual authorship may occur.

Cultural Background

Dynamic publications are a completely novel tool in scholarly publishing. Scientists have to learn to use them and to understand their benefits and limitations. Furthermore, scientometrics have to learn how to assess contributions that occur in dynamic publications.

Some research fields are more suited to dynamic publication concepts, while others are less so. There are research cultures that might implement dynamic publications faster than others. Hard sciences/lab sciences are more suited for dynamic publications. Here, often novel, incremental findings just require small changes to a text, whereas in humanities comprehensive theories and interpretations might not be as suitable to be expressed in well-circumscribed changes of text.

  • [1] Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transclusion
  • [2] A concept derived from software development, but also applicable to texts. Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fork_(software_development)
 
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