Friday, February 29, 2008

Adventure 29


Free Knowledge = Better Science

I am not battle-weary professor. Neither am sore after having my work rejected by multiple journals (not yet at least). I am a humble graduate student trying to prepare my first manuscript. In the process, I have discovered the pitfalls of multiple journals and their editorial policies; each with its own formatting guidelines, way of presenting ideas, kind of work expected, etc. While hunting for literature, I was faced with journals that my institution hasn't subscribed to; an article could cost upto USD 75! Thats when the ideas below occurred to me.

I believe that knowledge should be freely shared. Hence, I am against the practice of scientific journals charging exorbitant subscription fees to allow readers to access their online material. A better option would be to charge the authors themselves enough publication fees to sustain the cost of maintaining these knowledge databases. Most serious research projects are heavily funded, and there may be institutional memberships to get research published rather than access literature. Apart from allowing researchers with institutional affiliations to work from locations outside their organization, this would breed a lot of independent startups and amateur researchers who, without the need to buy expensive subscriptions, would be encouraged to contribute to scientific development, not unlike the 'hackers', who spurred great developments in computers over the last three decades. Furthermore, it would automatically put pressure on academics to publish, if at least to justify their institution's publication membership, which would be at a premium to subsidize under-funded organizations.

With the onset of the internet, I also believe that the practice of having separate journals for separate disciplines (sometimes a large number of journals of varying importance for various areas) should be rubbished. With the abolishing of journals and their impact factors, a research article will have no crutches to stand on apart from its own academic merit. Nobody will cite an atrocious article written by some heavy-weight of yesteryear with enough clout to bulldoze a peer-review process just because it appears in Journal X with impact factor 32.1 ortrash a perfectly good piece of analysis just because it appeared in Journal Y with impact factor 1.1. All articles should use the same formatting macro, and this editor could be freely available on the web (this is not some wild flight of fancy - check out the beautiful pages of Wikipedia) reducing the dependence on expensive and proprietary word processors (read MS Word), as well as the inconsistency of various LaTeX packages (I suggest the development of a markup language that incorporates both Wiki and LaTeX markups, as well as a few online toolbars for thosedisinclined to use markups - especially biologists, arts and business researchers). Apart from easy database searches (each article could have various tags, like most blogs nowadays do), this would weed out plagiarism and duplicate submissions and also facilitate a uniform format that everyone could follow. It would also allow such a database to be self-funding, with google-like text ads running alongside searches (a boon for project recruiters seeking expertise in specific domains, suppliers of scientific equipment and publishers).

7 comments:

Nanga Fakir said...

That is why http://arxiv.org/ is so awesome!

Chandan R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chandan R said...

I think categorizing things is very important. And one neat way of doing this is by having separate journals for different topics. Whats wrong with it?

I agree that charging the authors instead of readers may be good, but its kind of counter intuitive (charging producers instead of consumers).

Peeleraja said...

since we now search databases for literature using keywords, i think the idea of separate journals is redundant. thats good if you go to a library and browse hard copies.

charging producers is not that bad an idea. most major newspapers and magazines charge the reader only the printing costs and allow access to their archives online for free, while making money on ads

most journals anyway charge authors a publication fee most big projects get huge funds, so its not really a bad idea to increase that cost and free up access.

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Maureen Grace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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