Open Science And Closed Science: Aren't Papers Supposed To Be A Part Of The Conversation?

from the rather-than-a-brick-wall dept

It’s no secret that we’ve got some serious problems with the way the old school scientific journals work — basically locking up scientific research rather than really living up to their mandate to spread scientific knowledge. Stephen alerts us to a separate issue with traditional journal publications: how they handle the followup discussion. There’s a great blog post at Scienceblogs, that compares two separate journal articles where readers felt that the results were falsified in some way (despite being peer reviewed). In one, the scientist had to go to hell and back just to get the editors publish a comment questioning the original article. In the second, even though the article was published in a journal, an outside blog post and its comments became an impromptu forum to question the data in the article — with many scientists conducting the same experiment themselves and posting the results (including photos) in real-time.

The second one is obviously a lot more of the way research should work these days, though it shouldn’t all be hidden in a separate site’s comments. If journals are serious about advancing knowledge, rather than locking it up, why not give up on the obviously faulty simple peer review process, and open up the content so that knowledgeable people can input their own thoughts in comments directly on the article in question? Isn’t that what knowledge exchange is supposed to be about?

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Comments on “Open Science And Closed Science: Aren't Papers Supposed To Be A Part Of The Conversation?”

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9 Comments
Dave says:

yeah but

I totally agree, but! One of the main drivers against open source journals, and informal discussion, is that scientist have to have publications in prestigious journals (closed) journals to get promotions/jobs. Science and Nature are restrictive journals, but to get published in them almost guarantees you a big promotion or plum job. The whole system needs changing, not just the way journals present data. Things are changing, but SLOWLY.

Yogi says:

Money > Knowledge

“If journals are serious about advancing knowledge”

Ummm – No. Journals are serious about making money. That means being restrictive, closed and inaccessible as possible to everybody, especially laymen.

Even professional academics for the most part, are not interested in advancing knowledge. For the most part they are interested only in advancing themselves…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Money > Knowledge

Ummm – No. Journals are serious about making money. That means being restrictive, closed and inaccessible as possible to everybody, especially laymen.

Even professional academics for the most part, are not interested in advancing knowledge. For the most part they are interested only in advancing themselves…

No, and no.

The people who matter in these journals (i.e. the editors, referees, etc.) aren’t really worried about money at all, and for the most part want more openness. The problem is that they are locked in with their publishers and don’t care enough about openness to bother leaving the publishing company en masse to create a cheaper, more open journal themselves, since that would be a huge hassle (and not really help advance their careers, which is certainly important) for them just to save universities some money on subscriptions and legalize the currently infringing behavior that happens all the time in academia.

As for professional academics, refereeing for journals is pretty much the most thankless and least rewarding part of a professor’s job as far as their career advancement goes. They could easily get away with not really reading the papers they’re supposed to referee, yet most spend many many hours trying to do a good job of it.

Why? Because they understand that this is an essential part of the system and that they certainly don’t want the papers of others on which they base their own research to turn out to have been totally wrong and badly refereed.

Yes, bad papers do end up getting published, but for the most part, the peer review system works pretty well. One of the biggest problems with it though is that once someone discovers that a published paper is wrong (whether it’s just totally wrong or there are just slight errors in the details that will lead to hours of wasted time on the part of people trying to read it), it’s not always so easy for them to inform others who might try to read the paper in the future, which is something the publishers could help with, which is the point of this story.

Ake says:

withholding information

As a PhD student in CS I have often given thoughts about the journal, conference, etc… system. IMHO it is indeed a broken one, or at least an outdated one.

I write articles to publish my findings. If accepted in a conference (in CS, conferences are roughly on the same level as journals – I have published in conferences and I must warn my opinion is restricted to conferences… for now), then I have to format the paper to make it compliant with the publisher’s standard format. No problems with latex, sometimes tricky when you have to use MSWord or else.

But well. In short, you write the paper, you do all the formatting, you loose the copyright over it, you don’t get any extra money for publishing the article (which is fine for me, it’s part of the job). So the publisher earns the material.
Now, if I want to read an article, I or my lab have to pay outrageaous fares (dunno about subscription prices, but 25$+tax for a paper is what I call outrageous).

I guess the money was for publishing the journals and conference proceedings. However, we don’t rely on paper so much anymore, and most conferences give you a DVD with all the proceedings on it. So basically, their work, now, is to stack up pdf files on a DVD.

I’ve tried to think about what’s the use now for those publishers. Real use, I mean, not just stick their name on a conference to make it look classy and give more credit to the published papers. I believe that at least they act as money concentrators for sponsoring conferences and workshop. Labs can’ set up a conference alone, so if they disappear, something should take on this function.

But otherwise, I put great hopes in the development of free paper deposits such as arXiv and citeseer.

About publishing for money and advancement: Basically, you publish for making your work recognized and give your findings to anyone interested. Of course, publishing has become the productivity measure for science. Hence some people drive their research according to conference deadlines (which is not bad, as it a way of structuring a year’s work).

Now to the point of the article (at last ^^), the second example is, in my opinion, how research should be done. More feedback when exposing your work is always better, all the more as forums or else can trigger discussions among the “audience” (meaning everyone but the author) that the author can monitor, lead, or let go to see which ideas emerge.
From the other side, anyone concerned in the field can ask questions and give their opinions about the concerned work. An option that I like because:
1) Go straight to a recognized scientist and give your comments face to face can be intimidating, and internet based community can alleviate social awkwardness.
2)I believe that there wouldn’t be too many “parasites” whose only goal would be to undermine the conversation

Oh well, been a bit far and lost my points. This issue really tickles me ^^

Ben (profile) says:

Scientific debate must be supported by hard science and reasoned theory; online comments are a poor platform for this sort of rigorous debate. A reader’s first reaction to the methods and conclusions of a paper are useful and should be able to be shared, but these online comments are not a substitute for a follow-on experiment that corrects the flaws in the predecessor.
Online commenting would be a useful addition to scientific communities, but journals could add more value if they expressed the evolution of a theory over multiple peer-reviewed articles and include recommendations for future work (taken from article comments and suggestions for improvement included in the papers).

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