Sunday, 22 January 2012

Free Science, One Paper at a Time | Wired Science |

Part of the answer, strangely, is the very thing at the center of science: the paper. Once science's main conduit, the paper has become its choke point.

It's not just that the paper is slow, though that is a huge problem. A researcher who submits a paper to a traditional journal right now, for instance, won't see the published piece for about a year. She must wait while the paper gets passed around among editors, then goes through rounds of peer review by experts in her field, who might and often do object not just to her methods or data but to her findings and interpretations. Finally, she must wait while it moves through an editing, layout, and publishing pipeline that itself might run anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks.

Yet the paper is not simply slow; it's heavy. Even as increasingly data-rich science has outgrown the paper's ability to deliver and describe all that science has to offer — its deep databases, its often elaborate methods — we've loaded it up needlessly with reputational weight and vital functions other than carrying data.

The paper is meant to be a conduit for the real content and currency of the science: the ideas, methods, data, and findings of the people who do science. But the tremendous publishing and commercial infrastructure built around the academic paper over the last half-century has concentrated so many functions and so much value in the journal that the paper itself, rather than the information in it, has become science's main currency. It is the paper you must buy; the paper you must publish; the paper you must cite; the paper on which not just citations but tenure, reputation, status, and even school rankings are built

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