Monty Python’s rebels ponder all they must replace if they kill the Romans
The researcher rebellion against the closed research-and-publishing system, tallied most explicitly in a petition boycotting publisher Elsevier, continues to expand. (The Economist covers it here, and I covered the complaints last year in a feature.) The big question, of course, is whether this noisy riot will engender something like a real revolution. Will it replace the old regime with a new?
That will be depend on many things, but a key will be the construction of a replacement model for the traditional academic publishing system that so frustrates open-science advocates. As studious rebels know, a key part of a successful revolution is building an alternate set of institutions and services — an alternate infrastructure — to offer people as and after you topple the regime: Give the oppressed good schools, healthcare, and clean water, the thinking goes, and you win their hearts and minds even as you learn to govern.How well are the open-science revolutionaries doing on that front? To replace the traditional publishing system, they need to provide alternatives to its main functions. Those functions, as I described in my feature Free Science, One Paper at a Time, are:
Editing & review — making sure a paper is logical and intelligible; also assessing its value and significance. Review has traditionally been formal peer review.
publication/distribution — getting the thing out there so people can read it
credit/reputation — ensuring that the author or authors get credit for the work
archiving – making the work available to future researchers.
In the current system, the journal system bundles all these functions into the paper: The journal edits the paper and puts it through peer review; publishes it in print and online (usually requiring payment, a key complaint); provides a formalized citation that the authors can put on their resumes and wave around at tenure or job application time; and keeps the work available in print and online so future scholars can hopefully find and use it.
This system’s strength lies partly in its convenience and familiarity: everyone knows how this works, and knows where to go to try to publish or find things or see how many papers a research has produced. Major downsides include inefficiency and the fact that paywalls prevent more thorough distribution and availability to future scholars. (See my feature for more detail on that.)
What are the rebels offering to replace that system? By casting around the last couple days, I’ve assembled a list of tools created by the open-science community that seek to replace or amend the various parts of the conventional journal system. You can skip the indented text here if you don’t want the details. In any case, together they show that the rebels (to indulge my metaphor) have gone a long way to creating the alternate infrastructure.