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Stand Up For Science: Why STM Publishing in April is all about March?

Today we have a guest post from STM publishing professional, Emma Williams.

Emma Williams STM publishing

After completing an MA in Publishing at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies (OICPS) Emma began her career in STM Publishing almost 7 years ago at Elsevier, specializing in licensing and journal management. Emma is currently happily employed within the Health Sciences group at Wiley, helping partner societies to manage and develop their journals to their fullest potential. Also a former Society of Young Publishers Oxford Chair, Emma is a particularly keen follower of industry developments and innovation and interested in supporting early career professionals. Emma advocates The Scholarly Kitchen blog to nearly everyone she meets in Publishing, and is active on Twitter where you can get in touch via @TheRightsOne (personal) or @JournalsEmma (professional) respectively.

Stand Up For Science: Why STM Publishing in April is All About March?

You may not see it, but scientific and academic research is all around you. It helped build your house, fixed your headache, drove or cycled you to work, was mixed into your coffee and even contributed to that mysterious three lbs that you just can’t shake…

(Authors Note: This could also be the commonly practiced Schrodinger’s Biscuit Tin experiment too- if the lid is closed, are there even edible biscuits in there?)

Research in all its forms and fields is effectively the pursuit of an objective truth, often for the purpose of the benefit and/or advancement of humanity. In a time when ‘alternative’ facts and false news run riot, we must be like Indiana Jones and the Grail Knight- well informed so we can choose wisely. By this, I mean that we must try to understand and communicate the importance of well structured, methodologically sound, evidence based research practices and their contribution to defensible end results.

In the past, there have been barriers to communicating research to the public, outside of traditional scholarly journal publication.

Historically, science was commonly a pursuit for the wealthy elite and discussed in technically complex language between experts in the field firstly through correspondence, which eventually became formalized within Scholarly publishing. I would encourage everyone (especially all early career STM publishing professionals) to look at the creation of The Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions for more on the development of early scholarly publishing.

Alongside the formalization of these academic conversations around research, history has also documented public distrust of science and scientists. Perhaps this relates to an amount of disconnect from scientific conversation, but it may also be defensive (science is always a potential catalyst for innovation) against change for reasons which people may not like, be ready for, or even fully understand. This is clearly documented internationally in many cases of fear of ‘magic’ or witchcraft, religious conflict, and even cultural stereotyping.

Just think briefly for a moment on events like the Salem Witch Trials (circa 1692), or films such as Terminator (1984). Consider novels like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) or Frankenstein (1818). What about the depictions in both old and new media primarily made for young children, of Belle’s so called ‘crackpot’ inventor father in the story of Beauty and the Beast (1991) ? His eccentricity (i.e. scientific curiosity) predisposes him to such general public concern that he is nearly sent to an asylum- a particularly terrifying and often permanent commitment in past days. It is clear that in the historic public consciousness, there were very real fears that scientific curiosity, or developments, left unchecked would then get humanity ‘in over their heads’ across a variety of situations.

I believe that most people, living during even the more modern dates of some of these examples, would have thought of 2017 as sufficiently advanced into ‘The Future’, to expect better understanding, explanation and truthful rationalization of some of these fears. However, the modern citizen now faces a frightening time- we see heightened (or certainly more vocalized) opposition to evidence-based science; fear of globalization; and concerns about access to quality education.

So where can we find these trusted truths, to understand our world, communicate with each other and inform appropriate decision making for public good?

Although publishers and academia alike have recognized and begun to rectify some of the conversational gaps between academic research reporting and the general public through a wide variety of science engagement initiatives (Pint of Science events, or Publisher blogs for example) there is clearly still a lot of work to be done around mitigating unfounded fears and improving integrative discussion.

Now more than ever, the public must be able to either understand research processes directly, or to trust a third party to understand these and then report research results accordingly. Only then can we assess that end result and allow it to inform our own decisions and opinions. If we are not able to understand or we do not have access to such trusted sources, we are increasingly vulnerable to choosing poorly, and any ensuing negative consequences on an individual, national and a global level.

This is why scientists, academics, publishers and many other people gathered in various locations worldwide to March for Science on Saturday 22nd April. My personal experience of the global research community is that it is richly diverse, and full of those who have decided to embrace their curiosity about how something works, or could be improved, or could be learned from, and report back to the rest of us. I consider these people- our scientists and researchers- as an advanced guard, gathering intelligence on everything from climate change to medicine to lessons from history.

It is my opinion that we should fund and support research and engage with scientists and academics wherever possible in order to ensure that we don’t repeat mistakes, help people faster and preserve our world for generations to come.

For more information, please see:

https://www.marchforscience.com/
https://hub.wiley.com/community/exchanges/discover/blog/2017/02/16/values-have-no-borders?referrer=exchanges
Want more? Please see the below articles that the author came across while writing this, for ‘interesting’ further reading:

1. ‘Fake research’ comes under scrutiny, by H. Briggs, BBC News, 27th March 2017. Accessed via http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-39357819 on 18th April 2017.

2. 8 Hilarious Historical Fears That Seriously Delayed Progress by P. Carnell, Cracked, March 11th 2015. Accessed via http://www.cracked.com/article_22224_8-plainly-stupid-fears-that-held-back-human-progress.html on 17th April 2017.

3. We have always been modern, and it has often scared us by R. Higgitt, The Guardian, 24th June 2013. Accessed via https://www.theguardian.com/science/the-h-word/2013/jun/24/technology-history-modernity-speed-fears on 18th April 2017.

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