On Thursday I gave my seminar at Oxford. Of course I wrote the abstract months before the talk, so I didn’t cover half the things I said I would in any detail, but for the record, the presentation itself is on my Talks page.

Of the sixty slides in the presentation, most of the discussion afterwards concentrated on six slides at the end, and it became clear that I had confused my audience about what I was saying, so this is by way of trying to clear up some misconceptions.

For many in the audience I think this was there first significant exposure to the ideas and technologies of blogging (and importantly trackback). I introduced the concept with these factoids (from the 15th of March):

  • Google search on “climate blogs” yields 33,900,000 hits.
  • tecnorati is following 30 million blogs
    • 269,404 have climate posts
    • 1,953 climate posts in ?environmental? blogs
    • 131 posts about potential vorticity (mainly in weather/hurricane blogs)
  • Very few ?professional? standard blogs in our field, but gazillions in others! (Notwithstanding: RealClimate and others.)

I then compared traditional scientific publishing and self publishing, and this is where I think my message got blurred. Anyway, the comparison was along these lines:

     Traditional Publishing    Self Publishing  
     Pluses    Pluses  
  Review    Peer-Review; the gold standard    What people think is visible! Trackback, Annotation 
  Quality measures    Citation    Citation, Trackback and Annotation 
  Feedback    publish then email, slow    Immediate Feedback, Hyperlinks  
  Indexing    Web of Science etc, reliable    Tagging, Google, just as reliable  
  Readability    Paper is nice to read    PDF can be printed  
  Other       You can still publish in the traditional media  
     Minuses    Minuses  
  Review    Peer review is not all it could be    No formal peer review  
  Indexing    Proprietary indexing (roll on google-scholar)    Ranking a problem: finding your way amongst garbage  
  Other    Often very slow to print     
     Libraries can't afford to buy copies (limited readership)     
        Trackback and Comment Spam  

I then concluded the big question is really how to deal with self publishing and peer review outside the domain of traditional journals, because I think for many their days are numbered (possibly apart from as formal records).

Most of the ensuring discussion was predicated on the assumption that I was recommending blogging as the alternative to “real” publishing, despite the fact that earlier I had introduced the RCUK position statement on open access and I then went straight on to introduce Institutional Repositories and the CLADDIER project.

So, let me try and be very explicit about the contents of my crystal ball.

  1. The days of traditional journals are numbered, if they continue to behave the way they do, i.e.
    1. Publishers continue to aggregate, and ignore the (declining) buying power of their academic markets.
    2. They do not embrace new technologies.
    3. They maintain outdated licensing strategies.
    4. Two outstanding exemplars of journals moving with the times (for whom this is not a problem) are:
      1. Nature.
        1. Check out Connotea (via Timo Hannay).
        2. Note also their harnessing of Supplementary Online Material is a good thing. They’re only one step away from formally allowing data citation!
        3. Their licensing policy is fair: authors can self-publish into their own and institutional archives six months after publication. (Nature explicitly does not require authors to sign away copyright!)
      2. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.
        1. Uses the same license as this blog (Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-Alike).
        2. Peer Review is done in public, and the entire scientific community can join in. Check out the flow chart.
  2. Early results and pre-publication discussion will occur in public using blog technologies!
    1. Obviously some communities will hold back some material so as to maintain competitive advantage (actually, I think the only community that should do so are graduate students who maybe need more time from idea to fruition, the rest of us will gain from sharing)
    2. We may need to have a registration process and use identify management to manage spam on “professional blogs”, but individuals will probably continue to do their own thing.
    3. Some institutions will need to evolve their policies about communication with the public (especially government institutions).
    4. There will be more “editorialising” about what we are doing and why, and this will make us all confront each other more, and hopefully increase the signal level within our community.
  3. Data Publication will happen, and then we will see bi directional citation mechanisms (including trackback) between data and publications.
    1. By extending trackback to include bidirectional citation mechanisms and implementing this at Institutional Repositories (and journals) we will see traditional citation resources becoming less important. (There is a major unsolved problem though: there might be multiple copies of a single resource - author copy, IR copy, journal of record copy - done properly they all need to know about a citation, which means it’ll have to behave more like a tag then a trackback alone … however, I still think the days of a business model built around a traditional citation index may be numbered.)

To sum up:

  • Many journals will die if they don’t change their spots
  • Trackback linking will become very important in how we do citation.
  • Post publication annotation will become more prevalent.
  • Blogging (technologies) will add another dimension to scientific discourse.

trackbacks (1)

Four ways to avoid web boredom (from “Unsought Input” on (on Tuesday 07 November, 2006))There is no reason to ever be bored on the Internet. When I was young, I would get bored at school. I once had a teacher who hated the words “bored,” “boring,” and “boredom,” insisting there was no reason for any of us to say them – we e…

comments (2)

James Aach (on Tuesday 21 March, 2006) I wondered if you were familiar with the www.LabLit.com site, which deals with bringing real science and science culture to the public through fiction. Currently, media portrayals of science are rather silly. I have an essay published at this site as well on what happens when you try to use fiction to explain a key science policy issue to the public. (The answer is that you can’t do it via mainstream publishing, unless you’re already famous like Michael Crichton.)bryan (on Wednesday 22 March, 2006) Thanks James, I didn’t know about lablit, and now I’ve added it to my feeds!

ME: I read your essay (and may get around to reading your book). I appreciate the issues rather well. A former student of mine, Dave Frame, wrote a novel (when he should have been writing his thesis :-). All of us that read it enjoyed it, but us were academics and mates. Too much science, and David would be the first to admit, too many underdeveloped characters. (For the record, it’s worth a read: Light Speed, Dave Frame, ISBN 1877163023 … if you can find a copy … for some reason Amazon don’t hold copies of books from obscure NZ publishers).