Scholarship: Beyond the paper : Nature : Nature Publishing Group 2013-03-29


"Henry Oldenburg created the first scientific journal in 1665 with a simple goal: apply an emerging communication technology — the printing press — to improve the dissemination of scholarly knowledge. The journal was a vast improvement over the letter-writing system that it eventually replaced. But it had a cost: no longer could scientists read everything someone sent them; existing information filters became swamped. To solve this, peer and editorial review emerged as a filter, becoming increasingly standardized in the science boom after the Second World War. This peer-review system applies community evaluation of scholarly products by proxy: editorial boards, editors and peer reviewers are nominated to enact representative judgements on behalf of their communities. Now we are witnessing the transition to yet another scholarly communication system — one that will harness the technology of the Web to vastly improve dissemination. What the journal did for a single, formal product (the article), the Web is doing for the entire breadth of scholarly output. The article was an attempt to freeze and mount some part of the scholarly process for display. The Web opens the workshop windows to disseminate scholarship as it happens, erasing the artificial distinction between process and product. Over the next ten years, the view through these open windows will inform powerful, online filters; these will distil communities' impact judgements algorithmically, replacing the peer-review and journal systems ... This move towards a more diverse set of outputs has already begun. Scholars now share their research data in repositories such as GenBank, Dryad and figshare (figshare is supported by Digital Science, which is owned by the same parent company as Nature). They use repositories such as GitHub to share code, analyses and even 'executable papers' that automatically knit together preloaded data, analysis and prose. They challenge the traditional article format by including blog posts, interactive graphics and video. And perhaps most significantly, academics are moving informal scholarly conversations from the faculty lounge to social media platforms such as Twitter1. In the next ten years, most scholars will join such networks, driven by both the value of improved networking and the fear of being left out of important conversations.  This shift from a paper-native to a Web-native system has three significant consequences. First, the flow of scholarly information is expanding by orders of magnitude, swamping our paper-based filtering system. Like journal articles, Web-native products are of inconsistent quality and require winnowing; unlike journal articles, the scale of these products overwhelms attempts at manual curation. In the late 1990s, commercial Internet services such as Yahoo! found that hiring experts to create vetted lists of web pages completely failed at Web scale; the same will be true of scholarship.  Second, the Web era is exposing the delicate tracework of ideas beneath the formal structures of the academy2. The ephemera of scholarship are reified in a constellation of data points: views on figshare, mentions in discussions between colleagues on Twitter, saves in a reference manager such as Zotero or Mendeley, citations in an open-access preprint, recommendations on Faculty of 1000, and many more. We can use these and other tracers of impact to generate new metrics of scholarly influence. Informed by these alternative metrics, or 'altmetrics', we will draw new maps of scholarly contribution, unprecedented in subtlety, texture and detail. Suddenly, the rocky plain of ideas — once navigated using cairns of citation — is covered in fresh snow. In the Web era, scholarship leaves footprints.  The third consequence proceeds from the first two. The editors and reviewers employed as proxy community assessors will be replaced by the aggregated, collective judgements of communities themselves. The information-overload problem supplies its own solution. This is the power behind the Web's great filter, Google. While Yahoo! was applying paper-native expert curation to the Web, Google was aggregating the collective authority judgements inherent in the structure of the network. Its PageRank algorithm weights hyperlinks from authoritative sources more heavily. To find which sources count as authoritative, the same algorithm is applied to each of the source's inbound links, and so on. This simple recursive algorithm has proved remarkably effective, and requires minimal manual tuning. It simply harnesses the quality judgements already being made by the community, implicit in their decisions to link to other


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Tags: oa.comment oa.open_science oa.peer_review oa.impact oa.figshare oa.social_media oa.twitter oa.github oa.dryad oa.genbank oa.altmetrics oa.zotero oa.mendeley oa.mathoverflow oa.rubriq oa.open_notebook oa.metrics

Date tagged:

03/29/2013, 18:56

Date published:

03/29/2013, 14:56