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(ReadWith) AcademicJournals

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Quora Answer : How should scientific publishing be reformed?

Mar 30, 2017

You need to rethink what "scientific publishing" is for.

Scientific publishing exists to :

a) circulate new hypotheses and help them to be tested

b) enable experiments to be repeated and corroborated by the wider scientific community

c) to enable the community to keep up to date on the current scientific consensus (or unresolved debates) and what experimental evidence says about it

To a lesser extent, it also needs to

d) allow contributions to scientific knowledge to be tracked. So that we know who is doing good work. (And who should be hired.)

e) to keep the lay-public informed of the scientific consensus

f) to help current students learn

Scientific publishing can, and should, be redesigned to optimise each of these six functions. If you stop worrying about the traditional artefacts of scientific publishing - ie. papers and books - and start focusing on improving each of these functions you'll probably find a lot of interesting ideas.

a) Circulating new ideas and helping them get tested can almost certainly be done through something closer to blogs or news-feeds. Short (3 or 4 paragraph) summaries of new hypotheses, enough for a scientist to judge whether she or he should be interested; perhaps bolstered by "upvotes" from respected peers working in the same field about seems worth looking into. (GranularityOfScholarlyWriting)

b) I believe that journals and papers are the wrong granularity and format for sharing results. Today, commercial publishers should be able to proved the timeline or history of a particular study. If commercial, they should be able to sell you the tree of previous research cited (developed) by a new piece of research. Publishers ought to be able to make data-sets available. Where science depends on computer programs, you ought to be able to get the program (or the history of all programs), perhaps "containerized" in something like a Docker container, ready to repeat the simulations or calculations.

c) Once again, more fine grained newsfeeds. Maybe some entities whose job is to write summaries. This might be a special role for someone part-way between a science journalist, a department head writing a yearly report and an information scientist slotting research into a well established taxonomy. It might involve specialist AI software which can summarize and classify research and perhaps discover similar research.

d) Participation in all these activities can be tracked. And the social profile of scientists should be able to link to everything they've done. From doing new experiments, to writing suggestive blog posts to upvoting. Algorithms can create metrics of "influence". But humans should also be able to look at such a profile and get a good feel for a scientists' contributions.

e) Similar to all the above.

f) This too. With some specific pedagogic remixes of all the above.