A Streaming Platform for Science
Author: Joana Saraiva
‘Science is not finished until it’s communicated’, said UK chief scientist, Mark Walport, at a meeting about climate change in 2013. Ten years later, it’s time to ask ourselves: have we really been communicating science?
The European Commission defined open science as a policy priority, stating that researchers should share their knowledge and data right from the start, so that all relevant actors get access to the latest knowledge. But who are the relevant actors?
As a young scientist in Portugal, I know that even researchers struggle to access scientific papers. We are either lucky enough to have journal subscriptions via our institutes or forced to use the famous piracy platform called Sci-Hub. The sad truth is that science is still not open to all scientists, let alone non-expert audiences.
But the relevant actors are not limited to the scientific community. We would all benefit from sharing science with industry, policymakers, and the public. If we all participate in ‘the research and innovation process, creativity and trust in science increases’, as stated by the European Commission. The climate change crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic are great examples: when science is communicated widely and effectively, it can change the attitude and behaviour of millions of people around the world. We live in an exciting era, in which the importance of science dissemination is increasingly recognised. Organisations like Native Scientists are greatly contributing to this purpose, by promoting quality education and celebrating diversity in STEM. If we want the public to be informed with scientifically accurate information, the first step is to share science with everyone.
While scientists struggle to get access to scientific papers, many members of the public do not even know where to find academic literature or how to interpret it. Most of the time, science communication on social media only occurs around research that is published in high-impact factor journals, while all the others are just ignored. Moreover, news outlets sharing scientific discoveries tend to start with catchy titles like ‘new treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease’ or ‘new cure for cancer’, often creating misleading hype and not really explaining the long road that goes from the bench to the bedside. How can we make science more accessible and understandable to everyone?
As a science and music lover, I can’t help but find similarities between both worlds. The development of popular streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music was a direct consequence of people's desire to have free and fast access to all types of music, leading to a crisis in an industry heavily reliant on the sale of CDs. The easy and cheap access to worldwide music, including lesser known musicians, made music more accessible to the masses. Can we develop a similar platform for sharing science?
The idea is to create a centralised platform where everyone can read peer-reviewed and scientifically accurate papers with a simple click. Overall, this model of sharing science might be extremely advantageous not only for the scientific community, but also for the public, ultimately leading to greater scientific literacy.
Having a ‘streaming platform for science’ would mean that everyone could simply install an app to find the new updates on their areas of interest. If you are particularly interested in vaccine development, you could receive a notification every time a new vaccine study comes out. However, for non-scientists, academic writing may be difficult to read and filled with technical jargon that requires prior knowledge of the topic at hand. To overcome this potential barrier, a team of science communicators would work together with the authors to create a summary for non-experts, using simple language and highlighting the take-home message, every time a new paper is submitted in the app. Importantly, the platform could also include a forum where everyone could leave comments or questions for the author. One of the most popular features on Spotify is the ‘recap of the year’, in which you review your top hits of the year. In this case, the app could offer a recap of different scientific fields, such as the top findings in vaccine development or climate science in 2023. This way, we could always be up to date without being an expert in the field of interest. By promoting science communication to everyone, this app could help counter misinformation.
Additionally, having a centralised open-access app might overcome some of the problems that the scientific community is facing today. It opens the possibility of creating a new peer review model, by applying common standards to all manuscripts. Moreover, the review process in this setup could be public (as currently being done by some journals) and open to all experts in the field.
Furthermore, published articles are static documents, whereas science is always evolving. In this app, the papers could become living documents, being continuously updated, discussed, and complemented by other work in the field from different authors. In response to the reproducibility crisis faced from academia, the app could allow confirmational or contradictory results to be added on top of the original manuscript. This model is currently being adopted by F1000 and it is like ‘adding pieces of paper to the top of an existing pile’. After all, scientists are working towards the same goal: advancing knowledge. Maybe we can start working more collaboratively, instead of compartmentalising knowledge into multiple publications, across multiple journals.
More and more scientists are envisioning the scientific publications of the future as a combination of freely accessible data, living research, an open peer review process and a language that is accessible to everyone. I believe it is possible, by taking advantage of the infinite possibilities of today’s technology, to make science better and open to all.