Medium for Scholarly Literature and Evidence Dissemination

I see a great potential in Medium to be a repository and discussion/dissemination medium for scholarly literature and evidence, and indeed, one that can change the game, in much the way it is impacting conversations in longer form now. A scholarly publication, is medium to long form conversation, accompanied by citations and data, and evidence and all of which can be in the form of images, charts, data, and free text. This is where Medium also shines as it lets high quality content to be commented on and discussed at “idea” level, and furthermore, allows ideas to be “forked” or “branched” from one node to the next. This is way more contextual in scholarly commuication (where people can have discussions at several different levels, one level say for example between co-authors of a publication, or co-authors and experts in the field, and at another level, between authors of a publication and the lay readership or students for that matter). Thus in the space of just one publication, you can have layers of discussions and user base interactions get built in. Something like that already happen in the design community for example.

A couple of issues here as well: we do not know yet how malleable Medium posts are. In other words, an issue with scholarly communication and this is why a static medium such as PDF has so much role to play is that, once published in final form, the publication should be “frozen” in permanence and be uneditable. That also leads to the issue of permanency of the doucmentation. That is, once quality controlled by peer reviewers (which can be built in Medium quite eleagantly), the publication is “accepted” for publication and at that point, no further changes (without formal permission for amendment) can be allowed. The publication is allowed a permanent address, so that anyone wishing to cite the publication can do so in future. This will call for a different style of publication modality within Medium itself. Perhaps there is a space for re-examination of publishing practices within various disciplines to allow more malleability and change in the structure and format of information presentation, but the two features of Medium that can make it as a great outlet for scholarly communication are:

  1. The tight integration of comments/”recommendation/reputation” systems, and the notes feature
  2. The publication units of common theme based articles all can be lodged into one and tightly controlled that way
  3. Comments themselves can be built into publishable units (which btw, happens in general in scholarly communication)
  4. Space to display a variety of media (data, video, others)

Point #1 can be used for quality control and peer review, and point #2 can be used to build viable publication structure from within Medium with archival space. What still need to be understood is how to allow permanence within the Medium space and export articles to say alternative forms such as PDFs and others. Plus the issue around getting digital object identifiers.

That said, there are already scholarly publications that are setting up tents within Medium and are experimenting in this space, and I mighty like them. Check out for instance PLOS Ecology Community Field Reports. I am quite hopeful in Environmental Sciences and Health, we may see emergence of Medium like or Medium based publications that will take the next step in scholarly publications.

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in:

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