Written communication is “paper” in science

Maira Maselli writes about scientific publications and what she learned about communication from her recent experiences.

November 2020

It might be an inapt term, but I like to refer to scientific publications as “papers”. Even if most of the scientific journals do not print hard copies anymore, I feel that the term “papers” confers some kind of (deserved) concreteness to scientific communication.

The communicative experience associated with writing has been deeply modified by the technological innovations of the last decades. On the one hand, the accessibility of online platforms greatly facilitates communication, on the other hand, the excess of information stored online can generate a feeling of incommunicability (at least it did to me when writing my “paper”) or mistrust (by the non-scientific community).

Scopus is a source-neutral abstract and citation database, curated by independent subject-experts. To date, Scopus counts more than 75 million records (of scientific publications) in different scientific fields.(www.scopus.com)

So, this is how I feel consigning all my research work about ecophysiology of mixoplankton in an on-line “paper” during a global viral pandemic.


To date, the rapid spread of virus-related information (including rumours, gossip, and unverified information) is under the attention of the World Health Organization and is defined as “infodemic”.

Obviously, not all information can be of global interest. The best thing of “papers” though, is that they aim to ensure good quality communication. Indeed, making use of a clear, standardised, and unequivocal structure, information provided in “papers” refer only to accredited sources.

With adequate indexing and well-built networks, the information contained in “papers” can travel much faster and specifically reach those who might be interested in and might make use of it to further build upon it. That is why our scientific “papers” cannot be found in the newsstands (but please find them here: www.mixotroph.org/publications

How (and how important it is that) “papers” get read

Scientific “networking” doesn´t work much differently from any other social networking, even makes use of the same online platforms used for general interests. Indeed, you can also find MixITiN on Facebook. “Niche” scientific platforms also exist, for example you can find many of us, MixITiN members, on Researchgate. The principles and format behind those ‘niche platforms’ are very similar to common social media: researchers can be followed and follow each other; a researcher can also follow a research topic, project, or “paper”. Depending on the attention the researcher (research topic, project, or “paper”) receive on the platform, a research impact is calculated (creating, in essence, something similar to ‘likes’, and positive feedback in your brain by dopamine, look at “psychology of likes” if interested ).

This is for example how research interest scores are calculated on Researchgate. *A ‘read’ is when someone views a publication summary or clicks on a figure, whereas a ‘full-text read’ is counted when someone views or

Visibility of “papers” (of course) influences scientist’s careers, but most importantly influences current and future trends in scientific research. Then, it is of extreme importance that all science contained in “papers” authentically contribute to the latter, and do not only sustain personal ambitions.

Adding a keyword not really related to the research topic could have increased the visibility of my research, but this is undoubtedly ethically incorrect.

The authenticity of “papers” is corroborated by the peer-reviewing process from scientific journals (see below), but once published on-line the access to “papers” often has costs related to it for copyrights reasons. This, in my opinion, could prevent non-scientific society to get access to good quality information, in addition to the technical jargon barrier.

When authors submit their “paper” for publication, the editorial board of the journal contacts experts in the field (“peers”) to judge it’s quality (review). This was somewhat scary for me as a young scientist, since I have some qualm to consider people already experienced in the field as peers. But I learned a lot from the feedback I have received.

Anyways, the best thing I have learned from my experience as author of a scientific “paper” is that a good quality of communication is always based on the same principles: honesty and openness to confrontation, no matter the field.

A special thanks to everyone having a genuine interest in science and all people willing to invest in their own information.