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Olivier Dumon Headshot

Running the Business of Science

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Science is seldom thought of as a business, but as the foundation for everything that exists in this world, it's arguably the single most important business of all.

Consider, if you will, the billions invested in medical research that will generate the next class of biomedical and pharmaceutical breakthroughs. Or the analysis of climatologists about weather patterns that global commodity markets depend upon, and the physicists and engineers researching the next big thing in aerodynamics and personal computing. The list is as limitless as the discoveries being made every day, which provide the jobs and social well-being free societies everywhere depend upon.

Probably no other business relies on publishing the way science does. From the oldest known scientific work ever to be printed (The Aderlasskalender -- Calendar for Blood Letting, 1456), science has relied upon publishing to further the cause of knowledge and discovery and promote collaboration. The way in which articles are read and referenced, facilitating ways for researchers across many disciplines to collaborate with each other to produce original research, is a powerful dynamic.

As scientific publishers, we continually leverage new technologies that make our content more useful and relevant to our customers in the research community, enabling them to do their jobs more effectively. Better information leads to better research, resulting in more vibrant outcomes. And just like any other business, the way science gets done has undergone a rapid transformation in the past 30 years, especially in the context of the Internet revolution. But a couple of recent high-profile media events demonstrate a cautionary tale about the need to be judicious when using the Internet and its tools to broadcast your message to the world.

Earlier this week, a false Twitter post about bombings at the White House, supposedly from the Associated Press, sent the stock market into a free-fall. The rumor was quickly squelched, and the market quickly rebounded, but the global ramifications of such erroneous news especially resonated with those of us in the science research/publishing community.

A more egregious example of the potential damage of misleading statements is the story about an economics paper that has been used by many politicians as a basis for implementing tough austerity measures as sound fiscal policy. A graduate student discovered and flagged questionable data the report was based upon. The ensuing fallout raises a key point that the paper had not gone through the typical peer review process, which for decades has been the standard procedure employed in scientific publishing -- a point even made by political satirist Steven Colbert on a recent edition of The Colbert Report.

Had the original document gone through the time-honored rigorous vetting process, this mistake would have been caught. At the very least, the information that was finally published would have provided the explanatory notes and analysis essential to a more prudent interpretation of the data outcomes.
More than any other business, science has a responsibility to employ trusted vetting processes in order to ensure the veracity of research findings. Anything less than the highest standards could have potentially disastrous and long-ranging consequences, as we have just seen.

The business of science publishing is not only important to scientists. It impacts the very fabric of our society and how it functions today, as we also look for collaborations that will continue to drive the research and processes that improve our lives. The Internet and social media are extraordinary tools, but the pressure to rush something into publication or make declarations to the public at large without a professional review/fact-checking process is disingenuous at the very least and harmful to science research, and therefore the economy, at most.

Science does not and cannot happen in a vacuum. Aside from lab space, instruments and equipment for experiments, researchers also need access to trusted sources of accurate information in order to produce quality results. Elsevier publishes almost a fifth of the world's scientific, technical and medical (STM) content, and has a successful track record of indexing content from multiple publishers through tools such as Scopus, Scirus and Reaxys.

As Elsevier joins forces with Mendeley, which created an innovative research management and social collaboration tool used by researchers in 180 countries, it will expand its capabilities in document and citation management and enhance search and discovery by giving researchers access to even more trusted content. This partnership will have a huge impact on such areas as altmetrics and real-time information on hot articles across publishers, helping to render all scientific content more discoverable.

In this era of reduced funding for crucial research, we in the science business have a responsibility to ensure that the products we deliver are based upon sound data the global economy can depend upon. Only the most rigorous and disciplined peer-review standards can safeguard this.