I've been working on a post roughly on this topic for a while, and it's been getting long and meandering - so I've split it up. I'm expecting the following to be part one of several.
Scholarly communication as it is now is far from ideal. In what ways could it change to make things better? One way I have been thinking about it recently is in the context of Stewart Brand's "pace layers diagram"; Long Now Foundation just posted an interesting audio recording of a discussion about its origin and uses. The idea is that systems are composed of layers with differing rates of change:
The fast layers at the top are where innovation and experimentation happens, while the slow layers at the bottom bring stability. Changing things too quickly at the bottom isn't safe; forcing the top to slow down is equally harmful. Even our nature as human beings changes slowly over time, but for the most part that layer is given. Let's examine the other layers of the scholarly communication system a little:
In my last couple of posts I've been sharing some observations on the state of science communication these days, particularly problems with predatory publishers, overzealous publicity for ambiguous research, and the difficulty for an outsider in understanding what to trust in what's published in science these days. Bottom line: it's become much easier to communicate, but harder to know whether what's being communicated is worth paying attention to.
In this post I present two more cases of dubious publication - as these are in physics I'm rather more certain they are wrong. These have received a rather mixed collection of "post publication peer review" but in a fashion that I believe would leave the non-expert quite unaware they are not useful contributions to science.
Our first case study here is from the mega-journal PLOS ONE - "Implications of an absolute simultaneity theory for cosmology and universe acceleration" by Edward T. Kipreos, of the University of Georgia. PLOS ONE is an open access journal started in 2006 (2012 impact factor: 3.73); it is the world's largest journal by number of papers published, publishing original research across many fields. Published articles are reviewed for technical validity but as long as they pass that, it doesn't matter how important the reviewers or editors feel the article is. PLOS ONE doesn't publish many physics articles on the whole, but it has done a few along the lines of the above, for example this article that seeks to rework general relativity - probably equally dubious but one I have less background to assess.
What are we to make of Dr. Kipreos' article? Univeristy of Georgia seemed rather pleased with the publication. It also notes he is a molecular geneticist, not a physicist. Hmmm. Some version of the press release (with no comment from any actual physicists) spread quickly around the internet; the article lists 8522 "views" on the PLOS platform right now. Despite the promise of "post publication peer review", there is only one incomprehensible comment on PLOS ONE itself, and nothing in PubMed Commons or PubPeer.
I did track down two apparently knowledgeable critiques in blog form from physicists Brian Koberlein and Matthew R. Francis. There is no sign of any response or acknowledgement from Dr. Kipreos of the problems they raise.
As Dr. Francis notes, articles "proving" Einstein was wrong are extremely popular among the less-well-informed. I recall when I was a young man, probably about 12 after having read some account of special relativiely probably by Asimov, there was something that occurred to me that I thought I saw clearly, everybody must have overlooked it! I'd be famous, get a Nobel, etc. etc. When I tried explaining to my Dad (a chemist) he rather patiently suggested maybe I needed to study a bit more about it. Sure enough, when I understood it more, my insight had already been long accounted for.
Sadly, there are a few people who never seem to grow out of that stage of certainty that they've discovered something simple that others have missed. Physics journals routinely receive these "crackpot" papers - I've heard something like one in five papers submitted to journals that cover gravitation and relativistic physics are in that category. Their editors can spot these papers a mile away.
I thought I ought to share a recent incoming email with the world... I know this is a widespread problem, but the coincidence of this appearing just as I was thinking about Gerlich, Tscheuschner and Monckton made posting this one a little irresistible :)
Invitation to Propose a Special Issue and be the Lead Guest Editor
SciencePG (http://www.sciencepublishinggroup.com) is one of the worldwide publishers who is dedicated to promoting exchange of knowledge and advancing technological innovation. Special Issue is a part of SciencePG and plays an important role of its rapid development. Acquiring that you have once published a paper titled COMMENT ON "FALSIFICATION OF THE ATMOSPHERIC CO2 GREENHOUSE EFFECTS WITHIN THE FRAME OF PHYSICS" on the theme of Greenhouse effect; climate; thermodynamics in INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MODERN PHYSICS B, SciencePG believes you must have great achievements in your research field and sincerely invites you to propose a Special Issue and be its Lead Guest Editor.
The last few days have seen a bit of open warfare on the "open access" frontlines, surrounding a bill currently being reviewed in the house, H.R. 801, the "Fair Copyright in Research Works Act", which rescinds the NIH's open-access mandate. That mandate requires authors of papers on research funded by the NIH to make a copy of their article publicly available 12 months after publication, and has been in place for a few years now. I haven't heard that the mandate has done any significant harm to science publishers, or made much difference to accessibility of scientific research articles, but I haven't really been following closely and the bio-medical literature is not my speciality, certainly.
Kevin Kelly is one of the writers I love to read as he has an interesting vision of the dematerializing future. It's already happened where I work - before I started here, our revenue came essentially entirely from libraries subscribing to receive print copies of our journals. Now we sell access to the journals online, and take responsibility for hosting - as does every other scientific publisher still in business. Almost nobody wants the print journals any more.