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Helping new audiences to follow the science: Richard Gallagher explains why reliable scientific insight is needed more now than ever.

For all of us in science publishing, it is tempting to view the posting of final articles online for the research community as the successful completion of our task.

At Annual Reviews, we are trying to instead think of it as the end of the beginning of our role, because the insights contained within the articles are of great potential value to audiences outside the research community.

A functional democracy requires that policy makers, practitioners, educators, students, and citizens follow the science that underlies many issues that society is grappling with today. Covid-19 and climate change immediately spring to mind, but you could compile hundreds of topics where reliable expert insight is needed.

Publishers of the research literature could and should be playing a bigger role in meeting this need. Annual Reviews has a long-term goal of making the knowledge and wisdom of the leading researchers that publish with us available to, and usable by, diverse audiences through four interdependent initiatives:

1. The conversion of our journals from gated to open and global access through a program called Subscribe to Open;

2. Publication of Knowable Magazine, an authoritative source of high-quality science journalism for a general audience;

3. Development of actionable summaries of research tailored to the needs of professionals, policy makers, and educators; and

4. The establishment of interdisciplinary events (now more likely to be virtual than in-person) on key current issues, facilitating the flow of information among researchers and other stakeholders.

Meeting the mission

Annual Reviews is an independent non-profit publisher dedicated to synthesising and integrating knowledge for the progress of science and the benefit of society. We publish reviews only, and our 51 journals cover physical, biomedical, life, and social sciences. Each journal is directed by an editorial committee that commissions review articles and conducts peer review, supported by a core organisation staff. Reviews are written by recognised experts who capture current understanding of a topic--including what is well supported and what is controversial--and highlight major questions that remain to be addressed.

The combined efforts of authors, journal editors, reviewers, production editors, and illustrators creates content of great value to our principle target audience: researchers, faculty, and students. Annual Reviews is run by, and for, scientists.

Over the past five years, we have been exploring ways to interpret Annual Reviews content for new audiences and applications outside of research. There is no getting away from the fact that our articles, in common with the entire research literature, can be intimidating and impenetrable torrents of information, and are often conveyed in terse language. We asked ourselves if we could develop complementary products that don't require the same level of prior knowledge and that emphasise the significance of research to civic society. At the same time, we felt that it was essential to make the full review articles available to anyone who wanted a deep dive into a particular subject that they became interested in.

Subscribe to Open

While wholly supportive of the goal of making scholarly literature freely available to all, the exclusion of review content by some proponents of open access was troubling to us as review publishers. Surely, we thought, if the goal is to democratise scientific knowledge, reviews are among the most valuable types of content?

Our approach to open access began with an effort to answer this question. Using a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we removed paywall restrictions to the Annual Review of Public Health in 2017. Usage increased immediately, and continuously, eventually stabilising at around six times the level observed under access control. IP address analysis indicated substantial usage gains in academia (even at subscribing institutions), in City and State Public Health Departments, in hospital and healthcare organisations, and in government departments. There was measurable usage in every country in the world, other than North Korea and the Central African Republic. This confirmed our hypothesis and created the imperative to act.

A pilot program to convert five Annual Review journals to open access using Subscribe to Open is under way. The method behind the program is covered in detail elsewhere. Two journals have converted to open access in 2020, and the status of the others will be announced as they publish.

Annual Reviews removed access control to all journals on March 13, 2020 (to be reinstated June 15) in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In March, the only month for which data is available at the time of writing, all but one journal saw substantial increases in usage versus March 2019 (mostly in the range 15 to 100 per cent, but up to 1,275 per cent for the Annual Review of Virology). The exception was the Annual Review of Public Health, which was flat--a useful internal control as it has been freely available since 2017. Full analysis of this period of removal of access control will be available at a later date, but it is clear this further illustrates the value of open access reviews.

Knowable Magazine

Established in October 2017, Knowable Magazine ( produces high-quality, readable articles, videos, graphics, and comics that are free to read and free to republish. Review articles published in the 51 Annual Reviews journals serve as springboards for stories in Knowable Magazine, as was reported in Research Information in 2018, soon after launch. Since then, Knowable Magazine has built a substantial audience. The website has had 2.3 million users, and 3.5 million page views, including 245,000 in April 2020 alone, with an additional estimated 1.6 million page views via media partner republication since launch (see Fig. 1A). Publications that have republished Knowable Magazine content include The Washington Post, The Atlantic, BBC Future, and The Week.

The combination of Annual Reviews journals and Knowable Magazine provides accessible coverage to many topics of general interest, backed by in-depth related review content (free HTML access is provided to relevant Annual Reviews articles). Roughly one in 30 readers of Knowable Magazine articles click through to Annual Reviews.

Actionable summaries

This initiative is in the early stages. We are currently exploring how to translate Annual Reviews content to a format that will directly benefit policy makers, industry leaders, educators, and professionals. We have begun to collect and analyse information on the needs of representative groups in these categories, at local, national, and international levels; to review the relevant literature and events; and to reach out to organisations that service the policy and business communities with a view to exploring partnership opportunities.


Plans, including partnerships, for small, in-person events have been brought to a standstill by Covid-19. The goal of our events will be to enable exchanges among researchers, policy makers, funders, investors, and advocates around key societal challenges, with emphasis on scientific input and gaps in the science base. Potential partners include think tanks, economic laboratories, corporations, and government agencies. Working on creative approaches to develop this project, which is heavily dependent on personal and group interactions, for virtual environments is our current focus of enquiry.

In the time of Covid-19

In addition to removing access control to support researchers, faculty and staff working from home during the pandemic, Annual Reviews has published a Coronavirus Article Collection that provides free (and perpetual) access to 17 review articles. In March 2020 alone, these articles were downloaded 50,068 times.

We have also launched a project called Pandemic Life as a way to link people's everyday experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic to relevant research.

Three times a week, a different article is highlighted, shedding light on such matters as the benefits of social norms, how to guide children's development, dealing with isolation, and the nature of happiness. Pandemic Life is piloting live online discussions. So far, two events have been held, exploring the effects of social isolation and the genetics of susceptibility to Covid-19. Put together quickly and with promotion through in-house newsletters and social media outreach, these attracted 362 registrants from 19 countries and 686 registrants from 32 countries, respectively. We are learning quickly and expect these audiences to grow.

While remaining true to our primary function of serving the scientific community, we envisage Annual Reviews contributing at the interface between research and other facets of society. This is a natural role for a science publisher and one that I believe serves authors, editors, the organisation, and, most of all, the new audiences with whom we will interact. I welcome suggestions, concerns, and expressions of interest in these ventures that will create a public good that allows everyone to follow the science. I can be reached at rgallagher@annualreviews. org or on Twitter @RichardG_AR.

Richard Gallagher is president and editor-in-chief at Annual Reviews
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Title Annotation:Analysis and news
Author:Gallagher, Richard
Publication:Research Information
Date:Jan 15, 2020
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