The design of critical infrastructure determines what its users can do, and when. For example, the New York City subway system carries 1.7 billion passengers annually, shapes centers of residential and commercial activity, and enables a vibrant culture with its late night service.
Incredibly, it does this with a signaling system that predates World War II that forces trains to be spaced far apart from one another, limiting capacity and causing delays. Upgrading the signaling system is necessary to meet current demands, but it is estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars and would require closing stations on nights and weekends, harming New Yorkers who depend on these services. Thus, the radical (but ultimately necessary) upgrade has been delayed in favor of putting out more urgent fires, for example track damage caused by hurricane Sandy.
Similarly, journal management systems and publishing platforms act as essential infrastructure for scholarly communication. While more nimble than a metropolitan transport network, they nevertheless face challenges in balancing needs for both urgent fixes and aspirational developments. Over the long term, their supported features can shape the nature of scholarly communication, restricting or inspiring innovation.
Peer review innovation
Interest is mounting in modernizing peer review. In just the last year, a variety of new platforms and initiatives have launched: BioMed Central’s In Review, a Wiley, ScholarOne, and Publons collaboration, and independent peer review services linked from both Europe PMC (see the “External Links” tab of these results) and bioRxiv (see the section on “Preprint discussion sites” in this example).