Knowledge Sharing at the Speed of Science

Knowledge Sharing at the Speed of Science

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences and eBriefings provide robust scientific dissemination.

The special theme of this issue is scientific dissemination: the sharing of knowledge both across the scientific community and to a lay public that desperately needs accurate and meaningful scientific information. For nearly 30 years, before Academy Chairman Emeritus and Nobel laureate Torsten Wiesel enticed me to take on the role of President of the New York Academy of Sciences, science dissemination was my world: reporting and, later, editing science and technology topics for both professional and lay audiences.

But publishing—like the scientific landscape—is dramatically different now than when I first started my career ... or even when I finished it after serving as Editor of Science for a decade. In both cases, many of these changes are the direct consequence of disruptive technologies; in the case of publishing, the Internet.

Early on, physicists recognized the unique opportunity the World Wide Web provided in terms of disseminating information. These physicists-cum-online-publishing-pioneers eagerly, and presciently, starting disseminating findings online ahead of print, often catalyzing peer review on the fly and taking advantage of the novel ability to shorten the timeline between the discovery and distribution of new knowledge. In the life and other sciences, the change has been slower and, despite obvious advantages, more wrenching to many in the scientific community. And, yet, unlike the modern demise (or near-death experience) of newsweeklies and increasing numbers of newspapers, nearly 20 years after the appearance of Mosaic, Science and Nature still exist in print, and so do The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, Physical Review Letters, and many more.

I mention this to set the stage for this issue's overview of the unique niche that your Academy fills in the dissemination of vital information. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences—a special and enduring interdisciplinary publication that provides papers from the world's foremost experts, many of those papers inspired directly by talks given at Academy conferences—is not merely the longest continuously published scientific series in the United States, it remains remarkably vibrant thanks to its talented Editor-in-Chief Douglas Braaten. Specifically, at age 191, it is still in the top 5% of multidisciplinary science journals worldwide in impact factor, and its articles are available both in print and online and used by ~2 million unique users annually.

But since 2003, Annals has been supplemented by a unique form of knowledge dissemination: eBriefings. These are multimedia recaps of conferences complete with speaker slides and audio, and a professionally written summary of the talks. The concept of an eBriefing was originated to ensure that our landmark conference on SARS, held at the frightening height of the crisis, would be available not only to the 100 or so experts that joined us for the first interdisciplinary conclave on the mysterious disease but to thousands of scientists and public health experts across the planet.

Discovering the power of a new form of "proceedings" that would combine the gifts of professional science journalists with the PowerPoint presentation skills of gifted scientists, the Academy began this new form of dissemination, which, today, offers the wisdom of thousands of talks at over 50 Academy events a year to hundreds of thousands of scientists worldwide.

And this brings me to what makes our Annals and eBriefings so special: In 1823, a document of record for Academy meetings that would otherwise have been inaccessible to scientists outside New York attracted the likes of Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur to become members, and turned a local academy into a global institution with, today, 22,000 members in over 100 countries. And then, in 2003, the advent of the eBriefing used the disruptive power of the Internet to carry the wisdom of the Academy's scientific speakers to roughly 120,000 unique visitors per year—and without devaluing the service of Annals.

Together, in their different ways, Annals and eBriefings are contributing to a technologically globalized world in which greater insight can be brought to scientifically framed questions more rapidly and to more people. What better approach to the grand challenges the world faces? Welcome to the world of advanced social networking.

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Ellis Rubinstein
President & CEO