Thursday, July 1, 2010

Publishing Equilibria

This comment at the end of a blog post by Andrew Gelman got me thinking:

On the other hand, the current system of scientific journals is, in many ways, a complete joke. The demand for referee reports of submitted articles is out of control, and I don't see Arxiv as a solution, as it has its own cultural biases.

I wonder if the problem here is not one of equilibria. Journal articles have become the an important way to measure productivity and to define success. As a result, researchers who are good at producing journal articles prosper. To change the system you have to overcome the intertia of the decision makers often being those reseachers who were successful at the current system.

Most systems of prestige tend to be hard to overturn and it's unclear as to what would be a good pathway to doing so. I tend to wonder about marginal improvements as these are more likely to be adopted. But it is pointless to fight for scientific expression to be done on blog posts if employers count grants and papers to determine future employment.

So what are the improvements at the margin that are possible?


  1. In my experience (current PhD student), blogs are a wonderful resource for science and research more generally. I started using RSS feeds to read blogs and journals a few months ago, and though I have lost a little focus, I have gained a huge breadth of knowledge and experience from this.

    Its also caused me to buy books from people who's blogs I read, as well as led me to their published research papers, which will be cited in my future publications.

    So, to answer your question: the marginal improvements are already happening but I suspect that they are largely invisible, unless we start tracking blog links to published papers and their subsequent citing history.

  2. I agree that alternate channels of communication do wonders for finding about interesting research. My fall textbook was discovered by following a blog and I am delighted with it.

    So I think you are on to something here. Still, I am convinced that the peer review system is a touch bloated (having done 8 reviews in the past 2 months and not being able to do a 15 minute review).