as i mentioned in my last post, i’m planning to start blogging more about the academy/scientific endeavor, and one topic i’d really like to start delving into and having discussions about with people is the publication process. [i know, i know, starting small, eh?]
in particular, i’m really starting to wonder if the scientific publication process is really in need of a critical evaluation [in many regards]. i don’t want to get into too much detail right now [see “background’ below], but i thinking pretty broadly here: the media themselves, the amount of time we spend on producing vs. consuming, the accessibility, the use of peer-review, etc.
and i would love to get both data and personal views from people across the diversity of sciences and at different stages, jobs, etc. i’m planning to incorporate some institutional data from publishers, etc. as well, but i’d really like to couch a lot of this in the experiences of “users” [both writers and readers].
to that end, i am planning to send out/open up a survey to get self-reported data and opinions from folks about their interactions with publishing in the sciences. and, as this is not something i have really done before, i’m not going to jump right in without some planning first. therefore, i would love to workshop and then test-drive the survey with a handful of people before i really put it out there. and i’d generally love to get help with this.
sooooooo, if you are interested in this topic and would like to either help me workshop/brainstorm how to set it up [what to ask, etc.] or would like to test-drive a draft of the survey once it’s put together, please let me know, either by comment or via e-mail: josephlsimonis [at] gmail. and certainly, appropriate acknowledgements of assistance/involvement with this will happen, as warranted.
and, in the effort of acknowledging… this idea has been bouncing around in my head for a while now, but was really crystalized after attending the session on “taking ecology into the 21st century” at the ecological society of america meeting last week. in particular, points raised by jarrett byrnes [about digital/on-line communications], randy olson [about scientists inability to convey messages] and stephanie hampton [about “big data”] helped push my thoughts along in really productive ways. yay meetings! and thanks you guys!
background points [or, some partially-developed ideas of why i think it’s important to critically evaluate the publication process]:
as an ecologist for whom the major outlet for my data is journal-based peer-reviewed paper publications, i spend a lot of my time writing papers. and i know i’m not alone. paper writing is a huge portion of the job of scientists, at least in many fields. for that reason alone, it’s a good idea to ask the simple question: “are we spending our time wisely?”
this is especially true considering that many scientists probably don’t spend nearly as much time reading science papers as they do writing them. [this is a huge motivating factor for me doing this] and, when we read papers, we often selectively read certain sections.
papers are also the major “permanent” place where our science lives. yes, we give presentations at meetings, but those are [for the most part] ephemeral and often works in progress [on the way to becoming papers]. to put it bluntly, they are our legacy.
acceptance rates of papers are plummeting in many journals, especially in ecology [the field with which i am most familiar]. this deserves some unpacking and evaluation. ESPECIALLY considering the myriad ways in which publication acceptance is a privilege-based enterprise [to put it politely].
the peer-review system is being stressed to near-breaking in many other respects. [see calls for new approaches or re-evaluations, like the pubcred system].
the journal system is dominated by for-profit publishing companies, often those with goals [ya know, bottom lines] that don’t necessarily align with the goals of users or editors. or only do in so far that they can convince users that they do.
technologies associated with presenting, archiving, and interacting with data have developed a lot since the advent of paper-based publications. old avenues are becoming archaic and new avenues are opening up. like many other formerly print-only media [ya know, newspapers and such], scientific publications have had to deal with this. or at least should be dealing with this. personally, i think there are a lot of ways new technologies could be used to the benefit of scientific publications, and we’re merely scratching the surface. for example, “online-only open-access” journals really just transfer the old model to the new system.
in many fields [including ecology], “big data” is becoming a reality. many observatory networks and “citizen science” projects are starting to crank out tons and tons of data that are widely available/open access and constantly being updated. this changes the nature of science in fundamental ways, as now there may not be a clearly defined point when a study is “done” [the data are ready to be analyzed and put into a publication]. so, it might not be a bad idea to start exploring other publication avenues for such data, and really, for data in general. if the idea is that science is supposed to be constantly updated and refined, having static publications might retard that process.
generally speaking scientific writing is inaccessible to the vast majority of people, including some people within the field of science that the paper was published. in many cases this is the result of the strain to fit into page/word limits, the restriction on creative language, the need to use particular jargon in very specific ways, and other such things. when well educated people [editors, friends, etc.] can’t understand what we’re writing, but we write it that way “because we have to”, to me that’s problematic.
a few other things to consider:
should “sciences” be open to any field in the broad range of sciences, including “social” sciences? or should it focus on biochemicalphysical sciences? or should i just really focus on ecological/environmental sciences? obviously, different fields publish their findings in different way, which could complicate things, but i actually want to talk about different modes of publication, and i’d be intrigued to hear about how a variety of fields are dealing with new technological availabilities. so this is also a huge positive.
has anyone else already done this? i don’t want to re-invent the wheel here if some has already done/is already doing something along these lines. also, if anyone has any useful reading materials for me on this, please pass them along!
do i need to get “permits” to survey people?/are there standard protocols i need to follow? does it depend on how the data will be used? i have 0 experience with “human dimensions” or sociological research, and i want to make sure i stay above board, if there is a board to stay above!