A crisis in expertise has seeped into political and societal discourse over the recent years. Michael Gove during the Brexit campaign of 2016, then UK Justice Secretary, memorably claimed that “people in this country have had enough of experts”. US President Donald Trump is proud to ignore experts labelling them “terrible”.
Dame Minouche Shafik, head of the London School of Economics, has addressed this head on, acknowledging that often ‘experts’ have been their own worst enemy and that they need to get much better at letting the public know what is behind their expertise. Experts, she believes, “need to share with the public the fact that the work they do is backed by the rigours of peer review, that they have to publish their data, that they have to declare conflict of interests, and they have to subject themselves to rigours that random people expressing views on social media don’t have to subject themselves to. And if people know that they will be much better equipped to decide which experts to listen to and which not to”.
This got me thinking. Academic publishers are also being increasingly challenged over the value we add, in our case to the academic community and the scientific record. But taking the criticisms being levelled at experts and what Dame Minouche believes is necessary to counter these the need for academic publishers becomes much clearer. Publishing research and sharing it, making sure it is peer reviewed and able to be rigorously assessed are at the core of what we do and so if we are to truly help reverse this trend of scepticism, like the experts we publish we too need to be better at communicating what we do and the role we play within the research community.
Taking inspiration from Kent Anderson’s ‘Things that journal publishers do’ (currently numbering 102!), we believe there are four core areas that demonstrate not just what we do to help the research community but more specifically what we do to validate expertise and expert research so that the public can be ‘better equipped’ in knowing what to believe and what not to. Fundamentally we do this by helping experts make sure their research is significant, robust and stands up to scrutiny; that it is presented in the best way, using the most suitable formats and newest technologies, and that it reaches all relevant audiences; and crucially that it can be discovered, accessed, understood, used, re-used and shared, and act as springboards for new discoveries.
"We are able to connect editors from specialist publications across the company ensuring that all researchers have the ability to publish their work at Springer Nature"
But words, as the saying goes, are cheap. We can only play our role in reversing this anti-expert sentiment if we actually deliver on what we claim. I am confident that we do. By publishing nearly 3000 journals across the natural sciences, applied sciences, maths and computer sciences, social sciences and humanities and books across all academic disciplines and in all relevant formats – monographs, handbooks, proceedings, reference works and textbooks, we are able to connect editors from specialist publications across the company ensuring that all researchers have the ability to publish their work at Springer Nature. Our in-house and external editors travel to over 1,200 conferences every year, undertake hundreds of lab visits and presentations at institutions, universities or at meetings, helping and assisting authors even before they have a manuscript ready to submit.
We engage a network of over 90,000 editors and 700,000 peer reviewers to ensure that meticulous fact, plagiarism and ethics checks are carried out, that our authors’ works are reviewed by the best in field so what we publish stands up to the highest level of scrutiny and does both our author and us proud.
"We are incredibly proud of the research we publish and provide a gateway into the public realm for thousands of new discoveries and ideas"
But we are very clear that our role, and our responsibility, does not stop at publication. We are incredibly proud of the research we publish and provide a gateway into the public realm for thousands of new discoveries and ideas each month by investing in marketing, communications, distribution and data analytics tools so this research can be discovered and used. Our platforms (SpringerLink, nature.com, biomedcentral.com, Springer.com) were visited over 1 billion times in 2017 – that’s over 2,000 visits every minute of every day. We also send metadata to 400 repositories worldwide enabling articles to be searched and referenced.
The tools we develop help the community find, manage, and share relevant research within the growing literature, and our research solutions help researchers to identify the research that will advance the literature to support their funding applications. Our progressive policies on data and code sharing and our encouragement of the use of pre-print servers are further ways we are helping authors share their research.
This is what we are doing. But it’s not enough. More is needed if we are going to be able to re-build confidence and trust in experts and evidence-based research. Greater transparency. Commitment to reproducibility. Advancements in peer review. All are required to combat the crisis so articulated by Dame Minouche. We don’t claim to have all the answers. Quite the contrary. We call for increasing partnership across the community to tackle these big topics. Let’s stand together to preserve the scientific record and stand firmly behind the experts, for the good of all.