Originally, science began when people started to give their papers and results publicly, for discussion and correction. Back in the days of the Royal Society and other subsequent bodies, a talk would be read to the society and then published in their proceedings, and there was an immediate live feedback. Nowadays the process is much more ossified – research, give talks to your research group, present posters and if you are really lucky a talk at a major conference, then send in the paper for peer review. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Any researcher has played reviewer roulette in which some competitor rejects your work because they don’t like it. But now there are some interesting developments in the field of publishing papers.
One is by the august journal Nature, which has offered a trial in which people can comment on papers before they are accepted. Nature, one of the original scientific journals, actually started out as a way to popularly communicate Real Science to the Masses. But it, like many others, has become formulaic (there has to be a Methods section, a Results section, and a Discussion, and so forth). And reviewing has had some troubles lately, with papers getting through that are just not acceptable, with the occasional fraudulent results, bad technique and so on.
So Nature is offering a “preprint and comment” trial, in which identified members of the relevant community can comment before the paper is accepted. This could be a very useful tool, or it could be a complete disaster that descends into academic politics and competing schools battling it out.Time will tell. Nature will make the results of the trial available in three months.
But the Public Library of Science has an even more radical idea: “open access publishing”, which they are calling PLOSOne. This is a mix of blogging, wikis, and traditional publishing, and the idea is that all papers will be open for comment and discussion. Add to that mix the Creative Commons Licence, which is an “open source” form of copyright protection that nevertheless permits everyone to download or read the material, and science just got back to its roots. The major difference is, of course, that the net.loons will come out. This is a problem that Hooke, Newton and that crew didn’t have so much.
It remains to be seen what this all means for science, and indeed, academe in general. Disciplinary journals are often done by large publishing houses, who use economies of scale to fund the production of technical monographs which would otherwise be too expensive. The flow-on effects here will be enormous. If academic publishers cannot make money from the library subscriptions for their journals, we might see the loss of the academic text as well.
[Via The Daily Transcript.