In my last blog post, I discussed the need for a way to make scientific results publicly available more easily.
The advantages are obvious: rapid, free dissemination, and in the best case: a chance to get valuable feedback before it’s submitted to a journal. The drawbacks are also glaring; it’s not searchable in science-specific search engines, meaning that people in the field will find it only by word of mouth. Nobody takes the responsibility of maintaining the URL over time so I’d have to cite it as a “personal communication”, and it will not count as a merit when the authors are applying for jobs or grants.
You might be surprised that scientists have been so slow to simply post their results on the internet. Indeed, this is the first instance I have seen. The reason is that journal articles are the currency that determines everything, and the data should be new when it’s presented there. Because of the inevitable lag times, new in that context usually means secret since a long time, rather than just discovered. Physicists and mathematicians are exceptions: immediately when they had invented the internet, they started circulating preprints there instead of by paper. This practice has grown to a huge database called arXiv, which is now the primary source of literature for many in those fields, and often the only place that a physics or mathematics paper gets published. Nature has started a similar pre-print server for the biological siences, which has however attracted limited interest. Since 2007, it has only archived about 800 pre-print manuscripts.
I like Chaussable’s idea, and wish more people were trying to find new ways for science to open up. But I am pessimistic about the use of knol and similar unindexed sites for scholarly communication. My next manuscript will be posted on Nature Precedings, and I will beg the readers of this blog to read it and give me comments and feedback!