For reasons which I may or may not reveal some day, I’m interested in picking your collective brains about the future of online scientific publishing.
My premises are as follows:
- I do not read printed scientific journals any more – they waste space and are hard to search through when I’m looking for a specific paper, let alone a general concept.
- You probably don’t read print journals any more either.
- If you do, neither you nor anyone else will still be reading print journals in, say, 5 years.
- Electronic editions of journals are still not quite as useable as they ought to be for authors or readers.
Those premises themselves may be flawed, and I invite comment and disagreement about them. Do note, however, that premise 4 does not negate premise 3, though addressing that fourth point will alter the timeline of the third premise. What could publishers do to hasten or ease your use of online versions of journals?
Over the next, say, 5 years (where “, say, 5 years” may actually be a larger number of years), what would you want to see scientific publishers do to make their products better and more accessible? I’m interested in insights from journalists, scientists, non-scientists, and anyone who has been frustrated in dealing with any of the general purpose scientific journals (Nature, Science, PLoS whatever, etc.) in print or online.
Open Access advocates are free to go crazy in the comments, but should know that I already agree with you. Aside from my philosophical belief that information wants to be free-as-in-speech, I happen to think that scientific results ought to be as broadly accessible as humanly possible. I wish more journals threw their archives wide open and charged for access to new results, which is what specialists need, but which are more likely to confuse non-specialists. Whether scientific publishers can be brought to see the light is debatable.
Nature is leaping into Web 2.0 with both feet. Does anyone care? A recent letter in Nature pointed out that the reaction to their experiment with “open review” was a bust, and that even high-profile papers in the PLoS journals don’t generate many comments. Is that a cultural problem (scientists would rather write their responses up as a peer-reviewed critique) or is it just a modality that people aren’t used to? Comment sections on newspaper stories generally fill up, but rarely with thoughtful comments that a journal would necessarily seek, and it may be that scientists and the scientifically interested public are not yet ready to wade into that morass.
One thing I can think of readily is the equivalent of trackbacks, links back to papers (or blogs) which cite a paper, and better links to cited papers when an online version exists. The DOI system exists, journals should use it. That combination would allow readers to construct their own timelines of developing knowledge about a field. It may even be possible to create dynamic navigation tools and ways of visualizing scientific knowledge as it a accumulates.
What am I not thinking of?