There are two very interesting posts about scientific publishing that raise some very good points. The first post by petermr makes a critical point about the publication process–academia has ceded promotion and tenure decisions to professional editorial boards, not experts and colleagues (italics mine):
The academic system (in which I include public funders) has, by default, given away a significant part of its decision-making to the publishing industry. (I use “industry” to include non-profits such as learned societies, and like all industries there are extremes of good and bad practices). This gifting has been done gradually, over about 2 decades, without any conscious decisions by academia, and without – in the beginning – any conscious strategy from the publishers. The gifts have all been oneway – from academia to industry, which has grown in both wealth and power at the expense of academia. In effect academia has unconsciously stood by, dreaming, during the creation of a 10 billion USD industry, almost all of whose revenues come from academia, frequently to their detriment. Like Morbius in Forbidden Planet we have created our own monsters….
The historical purposes of publication did not include bibliometric evaluation of the publication as a means of assessing scientists or institutions. This is the monster we have allowed to be born and which we must now control. I do not believe it should be part of the formal reasons for publication. And if it retreats to informality we should take formal steps to control it.
Which leads to Joe Pickrell’s excellent discussion of what a non-publication scientific communication mechanism could look like and. He concludes:
Before the internet, peer-reviewed journals and researchers had a happy symbiosis: scientists had no way of getting their best scientific results to the largest audience possible, and journals could perform that service while making a bit of profit. Now, that symbiosis has turned into parasitism: peer-reviewed journals actively prevent the best scientific results from being disseminated, siphoning off time and money that would be better spent doing other things. The funny thing is, somehow we’ve been convinced that this parasite is doing us a favor, and that we can’t survive any other way. It’s not, and we can.
While he argues that we’re essentially one killer-app away from leaving publication in the dust, I think petermr’s point is critical: publication, I would argue, primarily serves as an assessment mechanism–if you’re an active researcher (and able to attend meetings), you probably heard about the work one way or another before it was published. But tenure committees and grant panels need some way of differentiating faculty and proposals. If we move to this brave new world of scientific communication, how will assessment work? I don’t think voting things up or down on the intertoobz will be sufficient, but maybe I’m wrong.