As I was posting my latest video on YouTube, I reflected on the time it took to produce, the amount of thought that went in to it and the likely impact it would have. I have enjoyed a long traditional career in science and according to my University ‘enlighten’ account I have 131 publications. There are quite a few that are not listed on the university database for some reason but it’s enough to make the point. What’s the point? Well, how much impact have they had and more importantly how many reads/views/citations? The answer is, nowhere near as many as I would have anticipated or would have liked.
‘Publish or perish‘. Ever heard that phrase? In academia, publications are like currency. Well, massive grant funding is the real currency but your papers are the ‘old money’. Your track record. Proof that you have been productive. But maybe that is about to change. Last year there was a bit of a ‘stooshie’ (Scottish word for a fracas or robust disagreement) over the fee that Elsevier were charging institutions for access to their journals. The same journals that academics contribute to and review for free! So, why do we need big publishing houses or prestigious journals to distribute our newest findings? What do they offer? I’d like to propose something a bit controversial. Just for the sake of it, because I can say whatever I like, it’s my blog. It will not be peer reviewed by two anonymous academics.
So here it is. My big idea. There will probably (maybe) always be a place for peer reviewed, high impact, 4-star journals. Certainly as long as we have metric driven appraisal systems like the Research Excellence Framework (REF). However, their days are numbered. Open access journals were just the start. Real Open Access would be a facility to publish if and when you like, on whatever you like, to an audience of 3.7 billion (yes BILLION) subscribed viewers per month. There are currently 990 Billion YouTube views/month. The top science journal Nature has around 1.5million readers per month and it’s really, really hard to get your stuff in that. You guessed it, I’m making the outrageous claim that YouTube has more ‘impact’ than ‘Nature’ or any other science journal. I posted a 4 minute video on how to measure intensity in an image 9 months ago. Without any advertising or marketing, or really pushing it in anyway it has had almost 6000 views. I’d be surprised if my entire collection of published papers has anywhere near that amount of ‘reads’.
Ask your undergraduate students when was the last time they checked the ‘International Journal of Whatever‘, chances are they never have. Ask them when did they last check ‘2 minute neuroscience’ or ‘Astrophysics in a minute’ and you’ll get the point. YouTube, Wikipedia and Google is what you need. Who remembers ‘Current Contents’? Seems like a lifetime ago.
Amazon killed the bookstores. Spotify killed the record stores. Kirsten almost killed JR. What makes science journals immune? Could WordPress, social media and YouTube take their place? I think so, and the current pivot to everything online is accelerating that. YouTube is the biggest international conference that ever there was. I just stuck my latest poster up 2 days ago. So far it’s had 86 views, 10 likes and only 1 dislike. Seriously, who does that ‘dislike’ on a free service?
It’s time to pivot, science folk. Get yourself a YouTube channel and come on in. It’s a bumpy ride but your next publication is only a few clicks away.