The rapid change in science communication is leading to multithreaded discussions on peer review (just one example of many, Philip Moriarty’s recent posting at the IOP) and models for journals. The latter discussions are backed by journals following new models for both the business and the reviewing side; PeerJ is the most radical and recent example here. I was recently asked to participate in a survey by Langmuir/ACS, which I duly completed. This post summarises my reaction to the survey and some of my post survey thoughts. The questions revolved around peer review (blind, double blind, open and so on) from the point of view of the reviewer and the author. There was also a box to fill in with additional comments. What I wrote in that box is:
“One might even think of a multi-tiered Langmuir.
A new papers
B papers that have not generated much interest; downloads or commentary.
C Hot good papers. Lots of downloads, clear influence on the field – other papers using the method or measurements, etc.
D Hot bad papers. Papers for which commentary is equivalent to an expression of concern. For these, one might request the authors provide their raw data or materials to the commentators for third party validation.
The journal “pagination” is more hypertextual, so that searching on a subject term, e.g., “gold nanoparticle ligand shell”, gives a hierarchical response, whereby the “best papers”, sorted by date are returned first. These papers also form the basis of occasional thoughtful reviews.
At the other end, the “D” type papers are retracted if they are not found to be reproducible.”
At this point I pushed the “next” button and the survey was over.
I regret pushing the button, because some time later my mind was drawn to Raymond Queneau’s poem “Cent Mille de Milliards de Poèmes” or “A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems“. I have a copy. A little book, with each line on a separate strip of paper: delicate, beautiful and an intriguing read, particularly as one can never get close to exploring the poems in full – there are far too many and life is far too short. This brought me back to the Langmuir survey and I realised that my comment was rather wide of the mark. A much better comment would have been:
“As the current change in communication matures, perhaps the article as we know it will disappear. Instead, is a growing treatise by a researcher on a topic, published by an open source organisation, with suitable tags. Each addition and revision of the treatise could then be reviewed, commented on, revised and then moved from “pre-print” to “publication”, though even this boundary might blur, due to continual review and discussion. The work of reviewers who provide alternative analyses of data or further experimental data would be directly linked into a treatise
The PhD may well disappear and the distinction between the “professional” and “amateur” scientist might be less clear. The treatise would grow with time. The more influential ones would result in offers of tenured positions or a position in industry to one or more individuals. A treatise may pull together in a synthesis data from other treatises. The current practice of “flat” multiauthorship would be rare; instead, authorship would be contextual, the links in the treatise would be how credit was accrued. Rather than arguments over impact factors versus eigenfactors, we might be arguing about which method of network analysis is most appropriate for junior and senor scientists and how large a “hub” a scientist needs to be before they are tenured. Authors could, if they wished, request “archiving” into a formal teaching repository part of the treatise: that which is considered sufficiently established to be part of the normal university teaching curriculum. Again this would be dynamic, so that the equivalent of textbooks would be dynamic. As a career developed, an individual might develop a second treatise in another area of science. The polymath may have half a dozen on the go. This would be a giant step forward, but is one vision of the future of science publication.
The irony is that it is in a sense a return to the past. Rather than publishing papers, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge would, in effect, once again be publishing books, but rather different to Newton’s paper tomes.”