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3 Elsevier scientific predictions about the world of exploration

The research ecosystem is witnessing a profound change at an unprecedented pace. A number of factors are driving this dramatic shift and transformation. These include advances in science and technology, demand for socially relevant need-based research projects, funding, grant pressures, and political uncertainty. As a deliberate move, Elsevier formed an alliance with Ipsos MORI, one of the world’s largest research agencies to conduct an exhaustive, futuristic, and scenario-planning study. The focus of this study was to determine how research will be conducted and findings will be shared in the near future.

The Study Design

The study was based upon inputs from comprehensive analysis of published literature and market drivers. More than 2000 researchers from various disciplines, fields, and age groups were interviewed. Several experts including publishers, funders, and technology experts were asked to share their insights on what the future holds!

All the information obtained in the form of opinions, comments, remarks, attitudes, and thoughts were collated to pin-down 19 factors that are in all likelihood potential drivers for the change. These 19 factors were then grouped into six themes. The following article highlights and sketches three plausible future scenarios derived from the six themes.

  1. Brave open world

National funding agencies and philanthropic organizations across the globe are focusing on common goals for conducting basic research and expedite the development of practical and application based solutions. Rather than the novelty or primacy of publication, researchers are rewarded based on their collaboration efforts and practical utility of their research.

Funders favor cross-institution, interdisciplinary, and global collaborations. Moreover they reward researchers who believe in sharing of data and open science.

Funders mandate researchers to submit a public-engagement plan along with their research proposal. This has fortified public trust in science and facilitated increased access to raw elements of research.

Interoperable open repositories include both preprints and peer-reviewed manuscript versions. Open access publication has become a norm, with several journals offering the green open access and gold open access channels. The embargo periods have reached close to nil with the aim of releasing information in real time and as widely as possible.

Researchers, across different disciplines are increasingly posting article preprints in journals to share significant outcomes of their work. More robust and accurate research metrics to measure citation activity have emerged to supplement the current indicators.

AI has facilitated creation of data-driven hypothesis and accelerated research. Scientists are able to operate and interrogate large data-sets easily, although skill gaps are still prevailing.

  1. Tech titans

International and industry foundations have established their primacy with higher financial contributions, surpassing public research funding. Pharmaceutical companies are the greatest funders of life sciences research and likewise reaping the benefits from research data and collaborations. With high competition between companies, they are reluctant to share their research findings freely.

Atomization of research data has become wide-spread. Researchers are reporting data as discrete units throughout the process, for example, methods, data, code, and preliminary text. Online repositories built on preprint servers are hosting these outputs and are being curated by technology companies that set them up. The popularity of these servers has led to a fall in manuscript submissions to journals, leading to the closure of some titles and the failure of some publishers.

The micropayment system for accessing research data and code hosted in repositories has become popular with researchers, institutes, and corporations. The repositories are allowing data owners to benefit, not only in terms of payments received, but also by maximizing their commercial application.

Publishers have collaborated with big technology companies to create an AI-based “peer-review” evaluation process, powered by natural language processing (NLP) that validates research outputs without human involvement. A certain segment of scientists doubt the validity of AI based assessment for new research and human-generated outputs. Consequently, they insist on sense-checking assumptions made by AI systems, an additional time pressure for research teams.

Funders and universities are increasingly identifying new ways to evaluate success. There is debate about whether quality should still be the primary measure. Furthermore, there is no consensus on whether quality should be the best evaluation method – researcher-level metric or citation metrics.

  1. Eastern Ascendance

China has resolutely established itself as the global powerhouse of research due to greater investment in research and development (R&D). It has also become a reputed publisher. In addition, it is encouraging native researchers to submit their work to its journals.

With greater pressure on nations to maintain their scientific productivity, individual nations prefer to keep their results of their research investments for themselves.

Researchers are indeed following open science principles to conduct science. However, this is proving true only in some countries. Instead, funders and governments jostle for advantage by imposing strict controls on the distribution of data emerging from the research they have funded –sharing is possible only once its commercial value has been extracted. Therefore, open science cannot deliver completely on its promise. Because of the misalignment of international funder policies, open access (OA) publishing has not enjoyed widespread uptake.

The Journal Impact Factor still holds primacy over other measures for determining research quality.

What the Future Truly Holds?

We are currently at a tipping point. There will be dramatically significant changes in how research is conceived, completed, and communicated over the next 10 years. New funding models will emerge. Novel methods of collaboration will develop. Improved ways of conceptualizing research and measuring its impact will arise, driven by advances in technology. Ideas coming from the new generation will fuel them further!



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