A big topic of conversation at Scifoo seems to be the future of scientific communication. I have renounced using the term Open Access, this term has been applied to so many different aspects of scientific publishing that it is utterly worthless. It’s a buzz word. It’s cool. But what does it mean? And instead of talking about the practicalities, much of the conversation is ethereal.
We need to define the real issues. What scientists want. What scientists need. How does science publishing impact the lives of scientists, both as a producer of scientific data and as a consumer. After a session on Open Access and Web 2.0, organized by Bora, Andrew Walkingshaw and I were talking to Eric Lander about all the anxieties of a young scientist who is subjected to the changes within scientific publishing. We need to clearly define the issues.
Tomorrow Andrew and I will present these issues in a session. We will then write up a position paper summarizing all the components that must be taken into account before we head into the brave new world of “free scientific information”.
I’ve cut’n pasted the main points that we would like to get across (see bellow the fold). Some online feedback would be much appreciated.
1) Open communication
This means the free and rapid dissemination of ideas and results. Ideally this would include feedback from readers and the authors.
We all want this in principle. It benefits researchers (1st, 2nd and 3rd parties) and the public. It democratizes access to science publishing. It allows for data mining.
Scientists are subjected to the publish or perish system. This affects the funding of our research and our career prospects. Gaining credit for key ideas and findings is of paramount importance. It is thus the largest source of anxiety for young scientists. One of the emerging issues is whether scientists should get credit for data presented within a prepublication forum, such as a blog or in an openly disclosed lab notebook (such as that of Jean-Claude Bradley). Who and what takes precedence?
3) Peer review I – objective assessment of scientific data
We need ti have a system to assess whether the data from a publication is self consistent. One interesting aspect is the degree of “correctness”. For example to publish in PLoS One a manuscript must contain a properly formatted complete story, but to publish in Nature Precedings a manuscript must meet minimal requirements (i.e. that it is not pseudoscience).
4) Peer review II – subjective assessment of scientific data
In other words, what is the value and significance of a body of work. This is an important issue for those who asses a scientists’ contribution to his or her field. It impacts how a scientist is funded and his/her career. Subjective assessment also helps consumers find the most relevant and most important work. The problem is who should be the judge? Should it be the journal editors, the scientific establishment, citations, trackbacks or through a user voting system?
5) Practicality of open scientific communication
One problem for the scientific publishing industry is how will this resource be funded? If journals have simply objective filters (i.e. PLoS One) then publication is cheep. If we use the journals to filter our work (i.e. PLoS Biology) then the extra filtering gets expensive (about 2500$ per article in the case of PLoS Biology). One important question is whether the cost of publication affect where any individual can publish?
So what is the solution? Will it vary between fields? One could imagine that perhaps we all develop some standards for prepublication data and that publication would occur exclusively in repositories such as PLoS one or Nature Precedings. In that case the major journals such as Nature and Science would act as a guide to what is relevant. But is this feasible?
I’ll see what the folks at scifoo say tomorrow.