Monica Bradford, Science

This presentation about Science's Signal Transduction Knowledge Environment (STKE)23 summarizes its history and current status, the specific issues related to defining what is a publication in the digital environment, and then how Science has used its power as a more traditional publication to help move forward this less traditional project.

The project was started in 1997. At the time, the staff at Science thought it was a bold experiment. It was formed jointly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Stanford University Library, and Island Press. The reason the three groups came together was that Stanford University Library was very interested in making sure that the not-for-profit publishers and the smaller publishers were able to be players online as we moved into the digital environment. They also had started up HighWire Press. AAAS had recently launched its electronic version of Science and was excited about the possibility of working with Stanford University Press on new technology ideas. Island Press is a small environmental publisher, primarily of books, but they had ties to the Pew Charitable Trust, which was interested in funding some kind of publishing experiment online. Island Press was helping to determine what the right area for that might be. They were particularly interested in the intersection of science and policy. Of course, AAAS was so excited about creating Science Online and all the potential that the online environment might offer, that it was eager to try something new.

The goal of the knowledge environment was to move beyond the electronic full-text journal model. The idea was to provide researchers with an online environment that linked all the different kinds of information they use, not just their journals, together so that they could move more easily among them and decrease the time that was required for gathering information, thereby giving them much more time for valuable research and increasing their productivity.

Why was signal transduction the first area that was chosen? The funders of the project wanted to find an area that would have the chance to become self-sustaining. Therefore, science at the intersection with policy was quickly eliminated, particularly because so much of the literature in that area is actually gray literature, not digitized, and had unclear prospects. The project moved instead to an area where AAAS and Science, in particular, were very comfortable. Signal transduction is a very interdisciplinary field within the life sciences. Cell biologists, molecular biologists, developmental biologists, neuroscientists, structural biologists, immunologists, and microbiologists all come to a point in their research when they need to know something about signal transduction.

There also were some business reasons, not necessarily cost or revenue, but the kinds of factors for which a publisher typically looks. It seemed there was a broad potential user base, with both industry and academia very interested in this topic. There was no primary journal at the time, with the information spread across a lot of journals, nor was there a major society.

Other aspects about this area of research and the kind of information in it were some of the most important reasons for the partners wanting to pursue it. The area of signal transduction is very complex and the information is widely distributed. It was important to be able to create links between these discrete pieces of information to help push knowledge forward in this area. It appeared there was the potential by making these links for substantial gains in practical and basic understanding of biological regulatory systems. In short, it was an ideal place for AAAS to begin such an experiment, because it would reach across disciplines, and after all, that is what AAAS is all about. The information in signal transduction had outgrown what could be done in print, and it really called out for a new way of communicating.

One thing the STKE partners were somewhat surprised to find out was that not only did they have to answer the question why signal transduction is important, but for business reasons they had to answer what signal transduction is. Although it was very clear to researchers what it meant, in the business world, they had to explain why a library should care about a knowledge environment around this topic—that a lot of their different researchers, schools, and departments would be interested in this. So, there had to be an education effort that went along with the marketing process.


For additional information about Science’s STKE, see

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