This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2005, Frankfurt, Germany.




Editing notes:

  • Seems to be copy/pasted from PPT, not real prose

Wikis for scientific publishing

  • Author(s): Lambert Heller
  • License: GFDL and CC-by
  • Language: English (and German if needed)
  • Slides: {{{slides}}}
  • Video: {{{video}}}
  • Note: Presentation 30 minutes

About the author(s): Lambert Heller studied Social Science at the University in Hannover. He is currently working at the library of Münster University, as part of a research project on library interlending and document supply. He is also part of a project dealing with 'information management at a large university'. He writes for the netbib weblog, a German weblog dedicated mainly to library topics, on a regular basis.

Abstract: {{{abstract}}}



Most scholars today depend on being reviewed following the traditions of academic journals, and they depend on being published by "important journals". The Open Access Movement can be seen as an attempt to put scholars (in their role as readers and as authors) back in control of the publication process. It also can be seen as part of a bigger movement searching and exploring new ways of publication - ways that fit the needs of authors and readers better. Here Wiki comes into play, but its role is ambivalent: On the one hand, wiki-software may serve many needs of the existing institutions and processes, on the other hand the wikipedia-community can be seen as a radical new model of publishing. How could Wikipedia serve as a model for the scientific community, what will the future look like, and what is left to do for wiki-developers and wiki-advocates?

Presentation slides - Nine observations and ideas around an ongoing paradigm shift


A new idea?


First of all: Internet media will initiate a revolution in scientific publishing – a new thesis?


Not at all!


15 years ago, pre-WorldWideWeb and pre-WikiWikiWeb:

"The potential role of electronic networks in scientific publication, however, goes far beyond providing searchable electronic archives for electronic journals. (…) In principle, all the interactions at the “pilot” stage of inquiry -- from informal brainstorming to participating in research symposia to circulating preprints for peer criticism before formally submitting them to an archival journal for peer review -- can now be accomplished by skywriting, not only at a great saving in travel and talking time, but with a speed, geographic scope, and scale of multiple interactiveness that no prior means of communication could even come close to providing." – S. Harnad, Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication Continuum of Scientific Inquiry

What does scientific publishing look like today?


Role of commercial scientific publishers

  • Historic roots (19. century): concentration of means of production (printing machines)
  • They classify and (down)grade publications (also called "peer review"; more on that later…)

...and make money from this, of course

Situation today:

  • Publishers have adapted to the internet (big databases of articles etc.), but
  • access to scientific information is more expensive than ever!

Scholars + their institutions

  • depend on being reviewed and
  • depend on being published by "important journals" - because of career and income
  • are used to earn no money for their publications or reviews
  • as readers: want to access all publications easily, without effort or money

The Open-Access-Movement (OA)

  • 2 starting points,
  • 2 main objectives,
  • 2 motivations behind it,
  • 2 ways

–- and many achievements!

Two main starting points of the Open-Access-Movement...

  • libraries can't afford the necessary journals anymore
  • new technical possibilities of publication through the Internet

...two main objectives...

  • Free access to published scientific work for all (Berlin Declaration: Freedom to alter & to copy those works; must be archived on the Internet)
  • Criticising artificial barriers (fees, need to be member of a university or something) against readers

...two – perhaps slightly varying – motivations...

  • Some state the public funding of science as the main reason (citizens as tax-payers have the right to access the results)
  • others emphasise simply the cultural heritage or public benefit of the works

...and (finally) two ways of OA

  • "Golden Way": publish your writing in an OA-journal – often publicly funded, but still competing on the free market place with commercial journals, and because of that working in (nearly) the same manner
  • "Green Way": publish your writing anywhere you want (even in a fee-based journal), and deposit a copy before or after the „official“ publication at some freely accessible online-repository (mostly institutional repositories)

Many achievements – the OA-Movement has gained ground in the past several years. Examples:

  • NIH-Plan in the US,
  • broadly welcomed Berlin Declaration in Germany,
  • scientometric proof of high impact of OA-publication
  • and so on...

Open Access – and one step beyond?


Peer Review

  • Review organized in a centralised and non-transparent manner (although each work will be published anyway…)
  • One question: Who is ever getting to read the much valued reviews? And, additionally, who can criticise their criticism? It is very much not like a conversation, and it doesn't value the scientists' work (both the reviewers' and the authors')
  • (by the way: peer review is also said to be expensive, slow and inefficient…)

Who is "guilty", and who (or what) may change this?

  • Again, scholars + their institutions depend on being reviewed and depend on being published by "important journals" because of career and income
  • And, again, OA-Journals also rarely try to change this, because they have to adapt to their competitors

(see also Sunir Shah about peer review and alternatives,

Publishing near and far


Especially repositories as places of publication (green way of OA!) stay closer to the authors – but there's still a distance:

  • Distance between process of (collaborative) writing ... and publication
  • Distance between living processes of review + communication with readers ... and "dead documents" at the repository

Finally: Steps beyond


But: There's a creeping trend towards authors and their control. I'll give only two examples, both from Peter Subers weblog "Open Access News":

Steps beyond – Example No. 1: Ourmedia as a big non-official repository "for the rest of us"

"Many publishing researchers don't have OA repositories in their institutions or disciplines. The missing piece of the puzzle is an (...) "universal repository" that will accept eprints from any scholar in any discipline. (...) Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive (IA) has agreed to launch just such a repository." (Peter Suber, SOAN 4/2/05)

Steps beyond - Example No. 2:

"The increasing popularity of blogs and RSS feeds will drive an increase in open-access professional journal publishing and will force many traditional, print-based publishers to consider offering at least some form of electronic distribution. The that the online open-access model can reach a wider audience at a faster rate than traditional print publishing can – and blogs and RSS feeds enable this to happen even more." (Dave Hook, Why blogs & RSS feeds will help drive open-access journal publishing. The Industrial Librarian, August 1, 2005)

Which role may wikis play in this development?


One view on the possibilities of wikis (just in note form, because it's you... :-)

  • "virtual writing table" - workplaces for development of text
  • those texts are formattable (like in any word processor), linkable, searchable and manageable, also as a collection
  • especially important to scholars: versioning (at the very heart of wiki-technology!)
  • easy to include original research material, e.g. program code or scanned pictures

Wikis can be modelled to fit existing needs – the needs of academic institutions and individual scholars:

  • fine-grained access controls possible
  • integration with identity management possible
  • integration with layer model of content production and delivery possible (e.g. RSS-feeds, webservice-interfaces etc.)

Perhaps most important:

  • Collaborative "virtual writing table" and
  • Repository of original research material and
  • Platform for publishing, review and reader-feedback of any kind

...all in one place

Besides (and finally): Wiki fits many institutional needs far from scientific publishing, e.g.

  • internal staff communication,
  • e-learning,
  • often fits easily into existing intranet-systems,
  • often open source and therefore not very expensive

...and so on

Wikipedia as a radical new model of publishing


Not like any wiki: a community that created itself through a wiki. Perhaps the special thing about wikipedia: Success because of

  • absolute openness (anyone can edit) and
  • a big community.

Today wikipedia is the most important wiki, a "role model" for many others.

Ego doesn't matter –

  • collective ownership of content through open licences

And, as a perhaps not-so-apparent side effect of openness:

  • collective authorship.

Now, does wikipedia fit as a model? It depends...

  • emphasis on informal, mutual help; conversation-style discussion of all participants etc.
  • perfect for authors and for content!
  • but not for the traditional aims of formal review, career and sorting your text in a publication hierarchy!

Wikipedia as the future of scientific publishing?


For many scientists today no one-to-one-replacement for existing publication model

  • but already a vibrant, attractive new model (the many insults to wikipedia, „like a public restroom“ etc... are a strong proof of that!)
  • (Remember: scholars + their institutions depend on being formally reviewed and depend on being traditionally published...)

Only one example out of many for a wikipedia-like scholarly publication outside of Wikipedia & Co:


Perhaps the most important message of wikipedia to the scientific community:

  • authors (and academic institutions) can fit the publication process to their needs!

Gerry McKiernan's utopia of scholarly wikis:

"(T)here would be no editorial evaluation or judgement of the initial or subsequent versions of an original manuscript by an editor or editorial board; at each stage, the author would serve as both author and editor in chief, and ultimately as publisher of his/her work. The significance and value of the work would be based on a variety of metrics (…)" – Gerry McKiernan, Disruptive Scholarship Blog Launched.

Important cultural changes are possible through wikis and wiki-like software, many of them can already be observed in wikipedia. Perhaps most important:


Reviews and other communication around a publication

  • can take place among equals
  • can be conversation-like
  • can be stored in one place
  • can be transparent
  • views in these discussions can be more important than the persons who hold them

The bottom line:


Let's put the authors back in control! They are the ones who are working on a topic, and so their needs are to be served.

What will the future look like?


First of all: Many of our ideas are already taking place and gaining attraction.


Role of the individual (as reader and author) towards scientific publishing is changing (and is, hopefully, becoming more important).


There will be…

  • no single, quasi-official model of scientific publishing anymore
  • a number of models of publication – not only accordant to the older typical differences between the sciences (STM vs. Humanities + Social Sciences)
  • Self-organized communities, foundations etc. will become important
  • Commercial publishers will also carry on (as long as there is money to earn...)

Ambivalent: Wikis fit the needs of existing publishing models and institutions;

  • at the same time, the community of the biggest and most important wiki, wikipedia, shows radical alternatives.

This is nothing bad per se, but good to know anyway...

What is left to do?


In my point of view, we have to look for answers on two different levels:

  • on the technical development level and
  • on the wiki-advocacy level

...on the technical development level:


More important than any single piece of software: Standardized data structures to make data interchange as simple as possible:

  • More and better support of RSS and webservices,
  • More and better support of metadata-models and description languages for research data, e-learning etc.
  • Support of OAI-MHP
  • etc.

Let's follow the ideals of Open Access and try to make the openly accessible wiki-content (re-)usable in every context one can think of!

...on the wiki-advocacy level:


Perhaps more important than any single wiki community:

  • showing, discussing and supporting different wikis (i.e. different models of wiki applications!)

The most important things to point out (and to show with those models):

  • Wiki fits the needs of collaboration – and in scientific publishing, this collaboration takes places anyway (and on top of that: it is getting more important every day).
  • Revolutionary break with existing structures is not enforced through wiki technology – but such a revolution is desirable, and the model of wikis like the wikipedia will (hopefully) show just that!

Thank you!


And many thanks go to the communities of

Both of them taught me important lessons about online-scholarship.

For further reading on our topic I recommend the writings of Gerry McKiernan, Sunir Shah and Clay Shirky; see also my recommendations at

Special thanks to Christoph Bestian for helping with preparing this presentation.