Now, I realize with this title, lots of people are thinking that I’m trying to do away with scientific articles. Far from it. But the use of published articles as ‘scientific currency’ can retard the adoption of new breakthroughs. A recent personal experience is in order.
I recently heard an invited speaker give a talk about a new way of handling DNA sequence data*. After the talk, in a private meeting, I asked the speaker if this software was available for implementation, and said speaker looked horrified. “We haven’t submitted for publication yet.” It turns out that no one will have access to this method for a year or so.
Now, I’m not a political novice, so I moved on**. But a year in my field (and many others, of course) might as well be the 22nd century. Keep in mind that this method is the result of federally-funded research. Yet this existing, functional breakthrough will be unilaterally embargoed to meet the demands of publication.
I don’t blame said speaker: the academic career system uses ‘pubs’ as primary currency. But there is a serious problem when breakthroughs are delayed in being tested in the ultimate crucible of science–which is not journal peer review–but use by and utility to other scientists.
Within the current constraints of our scientific system, I don’t know how we improve this. This is one more reason why I find various white papers put together by prestigious panels of academic scientists who shockingly discover that the current model of independent academic lab scientists is… the bestest model EVAH!! to be incredibly frustrating. There are other models, which, of course, have their own problems, but we seem to be far too sanguine about the current problems.
*I’m keeping the science vague for my own nefarious purposes.
**With the advances in data generation, sending small pieces of data to this person really isn’t an option.