EMDD Seminar: Alberto Pepe + the future of scientific publishing

The EMDD program thrives on collaboration. We students are constantly exchanging ideas, feedback, and findings through a hodgepodge of web tools and apps. With all those channels, it’s easy to lose track of who said what and where it is referenced. Shared work = shared headaches.

The digital collaboration problem is not unique to our program. During his recent visit to the Ball State campus, astrophysicist-turned-entrepreneur Alberto Pepe shared his vision for building an online, collaborative community for academic researchers. Along with co-founder Nathan Jenkens, he created Authorea to solve a problem all researchers share—how to coauthor a paper with minimal interruption from technology. His solution lies in the ability for multiple authors to work at any given time on the same document. The paragraph that each is working on is simply locked from the rest.

Pepe was inspired by the open source platform of GitHub. This has influenced Authorea’s development in two ways. First, the software uses version control to track every saved change, which means past iterations of a document are always recoverable. Second, the software encourages transparency and open source sharing of data. The philosophy behind this is that the entire scientific community benefits when all known data is accessible to the community. More data points = more accurate results.

My Thoughts

Pepe is an academic who created an authorship community for academics, which means he understands the struggles of his system firsthand. As someone with a background in academic journal publishing, what appealed most to me was the export capabilities of his system. Every academic journal has its own guidelines for how to format a document for submission. Popular journals have shared their styling criteria with Authorea, so formatting any given document for submission in any given journal is as easy as one or two clicks of a mouse.
Pepe’s overall goal of creating a more accessible body of academic research is inspiring as it may level the playing field for academics regardless of geography or professional circle. The ability to link summary tables and graphs with raw data sets creates an extra level of accountability that will hopefully lead to stronger, more accurate research and combat the burgeoning culture of scientific deniers and neysayers.