Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Scholarly-Industrial Complex

Excellent question "Are scholarly journals outdated? If so, what should replace them?" on Quora and some great answers:
Marius Kempe: Yes. Moreover, charging the taxpayers who have publicly funded scientific research for access to its products is immoral and will hopefully one day be illegal [..] An excellent article on this subject is Michael Nielsen's 'Is scientific publishing about to be disrupted?' [link]

Venkatesh Rao: Research publishing started as a way to share new knowledge. Now [..] even an apparently non sequitur paper about Shakespeare ends up becoming as much a part of the scholarly-industrial complex as some technical engineering paper.

That's really what this is: a "scholarly industrial complex" that's a relic of the industrial age. I am not saying industrial modes of scarcity-driven production are bad. But in the age of the Internet, there is no justification for applying them to anything that does not involve physical atoms. Research output is bits. It's not like making steel.

In the scholarly-industrial complex, the idea of actually sharing information for the purpose of stimulating intellectual exchanges has gone from being 100% of the purpose in the old days of Abbe Mersenne's living room or the original Royal Society, to maybe 10% (optimistically). The other 90% of the purpose of journal publishing has nothing to do with the original purpose. It's about perpetuating the institutions that live off the publishing. This explains why 90% of the papers published in most disciplines is mostly junk DNA in humanity's collective knowledge genome.

I am not saying the work that goes into them is useless, but the value most of the time is not in the paper, but in the person who does the work, and their immediate social research context. Good research mostly diffuses through word of mouth, not journals. I don't think any of my papers belongs in the 10% non-junk (there, I admitted it). The 90% does NOT need to be "published." It should merely be written up and posted online, and informally discussed. I mean come on, everybody has LaTeX for FREE today, and can get a website for free as well.

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