The X Team In Open Publishing. CGIAR: Publish fast, or perish slowly?

clip_image002MANILA: "Publish, or perish!" has never been truer than at the Age of the Internet. But I'll modify that a little and say, "Publish fast, or perish slowly!"

Of course you already are a publisher. Modern vocabulary: When you upload information to the Internet with open access to your files, that is the electronic version of publishing. Every time someone uploads to the ICRISAT website or I upload to my blog, that's open publishing. What about restricted access? It's still publishing. Toll-fee journals and email are forms of restricted access.

On that note, Open Access is Open Publishing. Open Access was what ICRISAT Director General William Dar had been proposing for the 15 CGIAR centers to do in a cooperative manner. I know he made such a proposal in a panel discussion paper he presented on 31 October at the GCARD 2012, which was the Second Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development, held at Punta del Este, Uruguay. The paper was titled "Sharing CGIAR Research Data and Information with Stakeholders: Opportunities and Challenges" (the full text you can find here, 01 November 2012, americanchronicle.com).

Dar's paper was aimed at answering the question, "What are the most important opportunities and challenges the CGIAR faces in sharing research data and information with its stakeholders?" Practical definition of terms: Knowledge is datasets already interpreted; datasets are building blocks of knowledge. "The most important knowledge output of CGIAR institutes," Dar said, "is our research findings that end up as articles in peer-reviewed journals or in conference proceedings." Noting our definition above, it is easy to see that the datasets are no less important, except that, as Dar noted, they remain buried in scientists' systems (files, personal computers etc) or in other external storage devices, not accessible to the public. Knowledge is not for everyone?

Dar said that knowledge collections and datasets are "very valuable as International Public Good (IPGs) and (therefore) can be seen as long-term assets of CGIAR." The IPGs have to be made available to the intended end-users, whom Dar identified in each country as the smallholder farmers, scientists and staff of the National Agricultural Research System, non-government organizations, community-based organizations, private agricultural companies, food processors, and all those who are interested in utilizing these knowledge outputs. Knowledge is for everyone.

What has been happening is that the published knowledge collections in technical journals online are inaccessible to much of the public unless they pay the toll or subscription fee. And the datasets are rarely published and largely remain private preserve. And yet, Dar said, "new digital opportunities for collecting, storing, manipulating and transmitting data and knowledge outputs have opened up new avenues for sharing and dissemination" and little of these have been taken advantage of. Knowledge and would-be knowledge are for everyone.

According to Dar:

One such digital opportunity is the Open Access (OA) platform. OA is the practice of providing unrestricted access via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles. Theses, scholarly monographs and book chapters are also increasingly openly accessible. ¶ Open Access benefits the whole world of science. It enables the free flow of research information between north and south, east and west, helping research to progress much more effectively.

In other words, Dar was proposing a common CGIAR Open Access virtual facility for the sharing of knowledge collections as well as datasets via a common repository.

Given that, Dar noted that the ICRISAT experience in operating its own Open Access highway presented and identified 3 main challenges:

Dar: "1. Effecting cultural change to encourage and motivate scientists to share datasets and knowledge outputs." Me: In my 37 years of professional experience, when scientists gather data in their studies, they consider them their personal intellectual property, so they are resistant to share them with others. About the knowledge outputs, I can say many scientists are willing to share but they are not formally trained to write technical papers, so they hesitate.

Dar: "2. Crafting institutional policies and strategies that foster availability of quality-controlled research results." Me: Crafting of policies and mapping out strategies are necessary, yes; concurrent action is also called for; after all, the research results have to be processed and peer-reviewed before they can be published.

Dar: "3. Developing clear incentive mechanisms and exposure to new approaches, methods and tools." Me: Scientists are easily trained to do research, not so easily trained to write up their results into papers for publication in local or international journals. They need professional help.

Thinking about Dar's little list in his GCARD 2012 paper brings me back to the purpose of this essay. The one word that is essentially contained in Dar's list of 3 is publishing. I mean, scientists will share their knowledge outputs and datasets if they are encouraged, assisted, and rewarded for their publication efforts.

And I know that scientists all over the world are disenchanted, disappointed and discouraged because of the turtle pace in publishing either on paper or online. That is because the obstacles to publishing are exactly the same in the face of the earth, and no one has really paid much attention to them so that, up to now, they seem to be immovable objects. I shall now introduce them to you.

Did I learn them from my previous mistakes? I learned them from my previous experience. I had the unverbalized theory in my head, and all I needed to do was validate it in practice:

Publishing is a team effort. The Team Captain is the first among equals, and he must be good in the 4 critical stages in modern-day publishing: writing, reviewing, editing-revising, and desktop publishing.

When I became Editor in Chief of the Philippine Journal of Crop Science (PJCS) for the issues 2001 to 2008, I already had decades of professional experience in all aspects of publishing, traditional and computer-based. I already had the ability to write a technical paper with a researcher's perspective, review a paper with a critic's eye, edit it with a fault-finder's hand lens, and desktop-publish the final manuscript myself. In the actual work, I had UP Scientist Ted Mendoza greatly helping me in the review process, after which I did the editing and desktop publishing myself via Microsoft Office XP (2002), and later Office 2003.

For the record, I was Editor in Chief of the PJCS for 7 years. And I achieved 2 records within those years: (1) I made that crop science journal up-to-date from being late by 2 years, and (2) I made that journal ISI right after I made it up-to-date.

My PJCS experience proved my intellectual contention that there are 4 critical factors in publishing and each must be managed well, expedited by what I call The X Team:

The X Team In Publishing

(1) For Experienced, Expansive Facilitation, to Expedite the
Technical Writing Process, you need an Executive Technical Writer.

(2) For Exploratory, Expert Reviews to Expedite the
Review Process, you need an Executive Reviewer.

(3) For Exacting, Excellent Editing to Expedite the
Editing-Revising Process, you need an Executive Editor.

(4) For Exceptional, Executive Publishing to Expedite the
Desktop Publishing Process, you need an Executive Desktop Publishing Fellow.

For Experienced, Expansive Facilitation of Technical Writing - You need to assist scientists in their technical writing, because in the first place, they are not trained to be technical writers and probably have never attended a technical writing workshop of adequate length and exposure. The consultant must be experienced; he must also be expansive, meaning "open and communicative" (American Heritage Dictionary). As a mentor, he must be practical-minded. He must be patient too.

For Exploratory, Expert Reviews - You need a consultant to expedite the professional reviews of papers submitted for publication, even remind people, because if you don't, papers tend to be forgotten for a week, a month, even a year. You have no excuses; if your reviewer is in Zimbabwe, what's the email for? A capable reviewer himself, the consultant must have working knowledge of science in general and must be an expert in statistical analysis.

For Exacting, Excellent Editing - You need a consultant who is exacting as well as excellent in the editing of not only style but also structure and substance, not only the English language but also the technical. Excellence is in the details; there is no substitute for excellence. An editor by experience, he must be himself a study in quick edit and yet quite thorough in his work - and happily repeat the routines of re-reading and re-constructing papers as may be necessary. He must be a master of word processing, and adept at using at least 2 of Microsoft Word's powerful editing-critiquing features: (1) Track Changes, which facilitates exchanges among people anywhere in the world, and (2) Outlining, which facilitates a total, intelligent editorial review of a manuscript in terms of the coherence, comprehensiveness, conciseness, and clarity of heads, subheads, and sub-subheads in relation to the corresponding texts. If the manuscript has no built-in outline, he must be able to construct one himself without sweating or swearing. Outlining is extraordinarily useful considering that many first drafts of manuscripts tend to be very long.

For Exceptional, Executive Desktop Publishing - You need a consultant to take charge of the desktop publishing (DTP) process, the last critical stage of the whole journey from dataset to manuscript to be published online or on paper. The consultant must not only know his science but at the same time be an expert in scientist-friendly DTP, because his output must be read, reviewed and revised, if necessary, even up to the last 2 minutes, by the authors themselves.

For best and fast results, to expedite both the editing and DTP work, it is ideal that the Executive Editor is himself the Executive Desktop Publishing Fellow. Precisely, I was that man, and that's how I made that double record in publishing history with the Philippine Journal of Crop Science. I was a rara avis of an Editor in Chief: I had taught myself DTP previously, and so I did the DTP work from beginning to end, and I had absolute control of the software, so I had almost absolute control of the whole editing-to-publishing process. And that made all the difference.

So, what does that all mean to CGIAR? It's this: I'm giving this unsolicited advice that the consultative group create The X Team to handle all the paper works involved in the whole publishing system, whether the final drafts of manuscripts go to private publications outside CGIAR, for limited access, or to a dedicated website for open access. Always working with the personal computer, The X Team will then take care of the quantity and quality necessary for processing CGIAR science outputs into publishable manuscripts. New CGIAR knowledge will then become the world's new knowledge ASAP.

How urgent do you need The X Team? ASAP! A case in point - which actually inspired me to come up with the whole idea of The X Team - I note that the Journal of Crop Improvement took 13 months to publish the paper "Declining Agricultural Productivity and Global Food Security" by William D Dar & CL Laxmipathi Gowda; that is, received 15 December 2011, accepted 20 December 2011, published 18 January 2013, vol 27 issue 2 (published by Taylor & Francis Online). Where did 2012 go?! New knowledge has become old knowledge.

When I was Editor in Chief of the Philippine Journal of Crop Science (from 2001 to 2008), being completely in charge, armed only with an old PC slowly running on Microsoft Windows XP and Office XP (those were the days), and with old me also doing all the desktop publishing work, it took me only about 13 weeks, not 13 months, from acceptance to publication (commercial print). A fluke? I did that repeatedly in the last 5 years once I got the hang of what I was doing. Yes, Sir, it was a one-man job - and I was already 61 years old!

If you manage the whole process, you can make the impossible possible.

As proof of concept, you can visit my personal, dedicated blog for crop science if you click here: Hilario's Crop Science Abstracts, blogspot.com. There you will find almost 500 extended abstracts of papers published in the PJCS from 1976 to 2008, all of 23 years. The extended abstracts were my idea, and I wrote them myself. I created the blog myself as well.

So, here are my New Year's wishes for the CGIAR:

Open Access is what you're after;
Accelerated Access is what you want;
Accelerated Publishing is what you need.
You can't have one without the other.

To start the New Year rolling, CGIAR can create The X Team lean and immediately start with a technical journal of its own, which I shall refer to here simply as The Science Journal of the CGIAR, published monthly online and downloadable as a complete issue on pdf, free, open access.

What could The X Team be doing at a moment's notice? Expedite the writing. Expedite the review, Expedite the editing-revising, Expedite the desktop publishing. Then, CGIAR knowledge will at last be at anybody's mouse's click 24/7 2013.

Ladies & gentlemen, if at 61 years of age I could do it again and again, you could do it again and again and again!

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