From scarce narratives to abundant fragments and back again: Plotting a future for efficient scholarly communication | FORCE11 2012-07-26


Use the link to access the full text article written by Cameron Neylon and posted to Force 11. “The research paper is a comfortable and familiar form of communication for researchers in the sciences and humanities. The paper contains a narrative -- often actually two narratives: a story about the findings themselves and a story about how those findings were discovered and tested. Both of these stories are necessarily fictions. One is a model, a summary of the findings, and all models are incomplete. The second will, by convention, pose a clearly defined question which is in turn, clearly answered by data. This is of course never how the actual study proceeded. Anita de Waard’s description of papers as ‘stories that persuade with data’ and the related narrative analysis captures much of what is important here... These particular stories started their life as letters, sent from one researcher to another, perhaps collected into volumes and republished in some instances. As the research community grew this became inefficient; centralizing the process of collecting and distributing these letters made a great deal of sense and the journal was born... By the turn of the 20th century, the journal system was quite formalized and a growing professional research class was generating more and more papers. For the most part any review was carried out by editors, perhaps as a board or on their own... Looking at papers from the 1930s and 40s, it is still common to find extensive tables of data; essentially the whole of the record that could be printed was published. In many cases the direct results of measurements are presented. But as the massive expansion of scientific research following the second world war took hold, editors alone couldn’t cope, and a more formal system of peer review by external referees was developed. At the same time the number of journals expanded rapidly as did the size of existing journals. By the turn of the 21st century, the whole system had expanded further, exploiting the capacity of the Internet and the possibilities raised by online-only journals... a fundamental
aspect of the current journal system is scarcity; that is, limited space in which to publish and limited resources to review all the submissions made. The content of research publications, still fundamentally narratives, has been reduced to an extent where the paper is at best a summary of what has been found. In many cases neither data, nor process, are described in sufficient detail to allow a detailed critique, let alone replication. At the same time the scarcity of review resources leads to a huge reduction in the proportion of research results that are available. The time and effort of getting papers reviewed means that the majority of research results are likely never made available. The issues of loss of access to negative results are well rehearsed. What is less well understood is how the lack of value given to maintaining comprehensive research records damages the access of research groups to their own data ... We have little idea what the opportunity costs of this loss are. What is clear is that we have a communications monoculture where the narrative is the only thing perceived as having value. The scarcity of these narratives is in part artificial, maintained so as to sustain the prestige factor, and in part a function of the lack of expert resource for review. But fundamentally we live in a world of scarce narratives... The reason I described the scarcity as in part artificial is due to the fundamental changes that the web brings. Given an existing online journal infrastructure, the marginal cost of making more papers available is as near to zero as makes no difference... What does not disappear is the scarcity of resources to generate and structure these narratives and the cost of reviewing and reading them. It is trivial to post objects to the web; it is not trivial to create them or carry out quality assurance on them because these are fundamentally human processes and therefore processes that do not scale...”



08/16/2012, 06:08

From feeds:

Open Access Tracking Project (OATP) »

Tags: oa.business_models oa.publishers oa.comment oa.peer_review oa.metadata oa.costs oa.quality oa.prestige oa.citations



Date tagged:

07/26/2012, 17:06

Date published:

07/26/2012, 17:40