Stop publishing in journals!

Kennis - bibliotheekThis is a plea for radical innovation of the disclosure of research outcomes with the help of ICT[1]

The Publication is the sacred cow of scientists. Number of publications, reputation of journals, number of citations and impact scores have become crucial in their career. Therefore most academics are eager to publish as much as possible.

Because of the growth of the number of publications, publishing in scientific journals is losing its  meaning for the dissemination of research outcomes[2]. Most readers limit themselves to browsing a few journals and reading a couple of summaries.

Many publications are not worth reading at all. The excessive use of references – intended to demonstrate erudition – limits their readability. Research populations are often small and the conclusions lack significance, especially for readers who look for relevance in practice. Worldwide, these publications cost taxpayers billions each year.

Good and relevant research deserves to be widely distributed by a more effective channel than scientific journals. These journals have existed for hundreds of years in their current form; the potential of ICT is largely unexploited. Apart from digital distribution, improved options for search and doubtful options for the calculation of impact scores.

Deployment of ICT enables a radical innovation in the communication of research outcomes. My proposal below is based on two principles, which I will mention in succession.

1. Layered presentation of research outcomes

The research outcomes are presented concisely on a dedicated website accompanied by research questions and methods. Anyone is allowed to react immediately. This summary is containing a set of hyperlinks to the underlying layer. Here, readers who are interested will find an analysis of the literature and the research data. A third layer is disclosing the original literature, data, interviews, protocols and encryptions. Further options are a log of the progress of the research, earlier versions and commentaries.

The image below, the pyramid of originality, shows the three layers mentioned above. The first layer will be sufficient for the vast majority of readers. It is conceivable that the author offers different versions for different groups of readers in different languages too. I short TED-like presentation might be added.

Pyramid of originality
Pyramid of originality
2. Presentations at team level, not by individual researchers

The approach mentioned above will improve the readability of the information but not its abundance. Consequently, research teams report their findings instead of individual researchers. Besides, the units of disclosure have to be sufficiently large. Apart from reducing the number of publications, this procedure will stimulate cooperation.

The first layer will become a platform where teams exchange and compare their research outcomes. The availability of the raw data in the third layer will foster the comparison and replication of research outcomes. External reviewers might be invited to comment, if necessary in a part of the site with restricted accessibility.

Reports from individual group members might be made available optionally at the second layer. This is also the place to unveil discussions between the members of the team.

Nothing prevents individual researchers from composing for private use a portfolio that unveils their contribution to research projects. This portfolio might include critical reviews of literature studied, contributions to discussions, comments upon other research, articles for (remaining) journals and publications for the general public. Interviews, blog posts and so on.

In order to summarize, the proposed innovation of the presentation of research outcomes is based on six ideas:

  1. Publications are findings of teams instead of outcomes of individual research.
  2. Presentations are made available on dedicated websites.
  3. The presentation of the research is layered deploying the pyramid of originality.
  4. The top layer is disclosing the conclusions of the research. These are hyperlinked with underlying insights, data and discussions.
  5. There is ample room for discussion and comment
  6. Individual researchers might compile a portfolio for own use.

The emphasis on research as a collaborative process and the removal of the incentive for individual scientists to produce as many journal publications as possible, will contribute to strengthening focus, mass and quality of scientific research. The layered presentation of results enables the readability and the accessibility of research outcomes.

Van den Bosch, H.M.J., & Bolluyt, J. (2001). The use of hypertext in the writing of group papers. Journal of Computer-assisted Learning, 17(4), 355-362.

[1] The content of this post is rooted in an article that I wrote quite a number of years ago with Jeroen Bolluyt (Van den Bosch & Bolluyt, 2001). I never forwarded to develop my thoughts about alternatives for the derailed institution of scientific journals and their content. Last year I was urged to do so repeatedly. Hence this blog post. The original article can be found here:

[2]  See for a conservative calculation of the increase in the number of publications. The result of this calculation is that since 1950 the number of publications is doubling every nine years.


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