Publish or post?

A new European-funded initiative is advocating an entirely new system of science publishing, in which scientists avoid the hassles of traditional peer review by taking a quietly radical step: post their results on their websites. Image: Wikimedia commons, GfloresAs the linkurl:news release; for LiquidPublication simply states: "Don't print it; post it."

By | August 9, 2010

A new European-funded initiative is advocating an entirely new system of science publishing, in which scientists avoid the hassles of traditional peer review by taking a quietly radical step: post their results on their websites.
Image: Wikimedia commons, Gflores
As the linkurl:news release; for LiquidPublication simply states: "Don't print it; post it." To disseminate the information, the program has a software platform that lets other scientists search for what's been posted, leave comments, link related works, and gather papers and information into their own personalized online journals -- all for free. "I think it's exactly what is needed -- a paradigm shift," said peer-review critic linkurl:David Kaplan; of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. "This is a different system that utilizes the unique characteristics of the web [to provide] a different way of looking at manuscripts [and] a different way of evaluating them." The downfalls of the current scientific publishing scheme are no secret, and while many journals are aiming to better it (see linkurl:The Scientist's feature; in this month's issue), their efforts are relatively minor alterations to what many consider a fundamentally flawed system. Now, information engineer linkurl:Fabio Casati; of the University of Trento in Italy and his collaborators are suggesting science publishing try something entirely new, taking full advantage of the rapidly evolving Web 2.0 technology. They suggest making research -- including formal manuscripts, datasets, presentation slides, and other presentations -- available through the web without any sort of traditional peer-review process. That research would then be searchable and citable by the rest of the scientific community at no cost. "In this way -- by looking at what people do in terms of reading, sharing, or connecting scientific knowledge -- we can have a way of finding out which scientific resources are considered good and interesting by the scientific community," Casati said. Specifically, he and his team envision a new age of scientific journals, created by the users themselves -- the scientists. "I [could] have my own journal, which I maintain on peer review, for example," he explains. "[When I find an interesting paper], I drag and drop the pdf file [in] the journal" using the platform provided by LiquidPublication, which recognizes the file, obtains the url, and retrieves the metadata, etc. "I do this because I want to keep track of it for myself [and alert] all my team, [but] by doing this, we also share [our thoughts on the research] with the world." The linkurl:LiquidPublication site,; which already has a prototype up and running, will then collect basic metrics (for example, the number of people who include a contribution in their journals, the number of subscribers to a particular journal, or the number of times someone links to a scientific resource) by which users can judge the reputability of different pieces of knowledge -- or the merit of its authors. "In essence, what we want to do is to allow scientists to easily build this web of scientific resources," Casati said. "I think it's really interesting, and I think it could make a lot of difference," said Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, who has written extensively about peer review. It takes advantage of "the whole idea of the invisible college," he said. Of course, this system is not without its drawbacks, most agree. "My fear is that people would put out garbage," Kaplan said. "Who's going to wade through all of that?" The solution to this, however, would be to employ gatekeepers of the content, "and the more you gatekeep, the more you're back to the system we have now." But under the system Casati has in mind, gatekeepers wouldn't be necessary. The research, he said, will be vetted by those who understand it best -- those scientists working on closely related subjects. For instance, scientists can follow "how frequently reputable people, who are respected in science, put [them] into their journals." In his opinion, there's no reason such a system can't coexist with many of today's journals, with or without peer review. "We're not saying you should use this system religiously and not use peer review," he said. "You can have a journal with this model, but still have peer review behind it." Indeed, the project has attracted interest from the scientific branch of Springer Publishing. While the publisher is currently not contributing any funds to the project, "Springer was brought in because of their knowledge in the field," Casati said. "I think it's clear to them that the world is going to change. In the past, [journals have been] used to provide the value of printing and distinction, [but in the future] it will be radically different." Springer was not able to comment by deadline. In addition to making scientific publishing much more efficient, Casati and his collaborators hope that LiquidPublication will encourage quality over quantity, and "discourage the attitude of trying to publish as many papers as possible as opposed to trying to do as much research as possible," he said. The way the platform will link papers, for example, will be able to show when one publication is merely an incremental addition to a previous one. The world "will know whether your 14 papers you've published are minor variations or are actually 14 new and different scientific contributions." Unfortunately, Smith said, the scientific community has so long been stuck in its ways, that such a dramatic change will be difficult for many to accept. "I would be surprised if this is the sort of the breech of the dikes that really causes things to change in a real way," Smith said, "but let's hope it might be." The LiquidPublication project is funded by the FET-Open strand of the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme for research.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:I Hate Your Paper;
[August 2010]*linkurl:Peer review trickery?;
[2nd February 2010]*linkurl:Journal plays with peer review;
[3rd February 2009]


Avatar of: MARK WEBER


Posts: 19

August 9, 2010

A great idea whose time has come.
Avatar of: HENRY CHANG


Posts: 20

August 9, 2010

This seems to be just a more formal way of posting information on the web without peer review. There is a lot of misinformation out there that one has to sift through. This approach may be valuable if data can be mined more freely than is currently the case. Certainly it will add pressure to traditional publishing methods as far as patentability is concerned.\nGiven this concern, does anyone know of a way to share ideas that logs credit for the originator?
Avatar of: jitendra Mehrishi

jitendra Mehrishi

Posts: 12

August 9, 2010

Some one is kidding!\nAre you asking for the ?turkey to vote for Christmas??\n$bn publishing industry, editors and the editorial board members (it is not all ?free work to lend their names, I know) and the publishers making fat profits will not give up that easily.\n\nThe tyranny of the not quite so widely read without deep wide knowledge in search of 'interesting copy headlines' will disappear- that has been doing a lot of harm hindering rather than helping the scientific community.\nHowever, you do need some checking of the indiscriminate posting of information.\n\nEven now, one can see papers in many Js (including NEJM, NATURE, SCIENCE, not so much PNAS!) with howlers: recalculating some parameters from values given by the authors, using their equations-very simple undergraduate level- have revealed errors ? in one paper in NEJM - 3 senior basic research scientists ? physics, chemistry, mathematics, statistics (120 years of experience between them) found errors of anything between 23- 30%. (Paper presumably refereed by ?buddies? equally unaware of the correct undergraduate level procedures). NATURE has published seriously flawed artefact papers on 4 donors (presumably agreeing with the referees? expectations) in contrast to data form 40 donors- providing a ew discovery- not expected by the hostile referees. Some papers in NATURE have been withdrawn, some remain! We know the recent episodes of cooked up data in SCIENCE and other journals.\n Some Js editorial assistants have been known to break the ordinary rules of sending MSS for reviewing to competitors, whose work is being criticised therein!\n\nTwo other episode and irregularities come to mind about the less than moderate competence\n \nJ Mehrishi, PhD, FRCPath.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

August 9, 2010

Sounds like an open medium for plagiarism, and an opportunity for pseudo-scientists to receive more attention than they deserve; also, people like to get credit for their hard work. I just finished analyzing a $20,000 microarray experiment, and the thought of putting it all up on the internet gratis makes me shudder.
Avatar of: Marcus Muench

Marcus Muench

Posts: 3

August 9, 2010

I believe reviewers and editorial boards serve a valuable function as gatekeepers. Many of my own manuscripts have been improved by addressing reviewer's questions and comments and I like to believe that some of the manuscripts that I have reviewed have been improved by my contributions. \n\nAs a reviewer I have also rejected papers for plagiarism, attempting to re-publish old data and poor-quality research. Presumably all these manuscripts would have been published under a self-publication model. \n\nSelf-publication may benefit established investigators that have built a reputation and a following by colleagues familiar with their work (even though I think they would still benefit from an honest and good review process). On the other hand, I believe self-publication would dramatically increase the signal to noise ratio as more investigators try to jump on the bandwagon and publish 'me-too' papers and small studies. Quantity would over-run quality and overwhelmed readers would turn to work published by established laboratories and ignore the rest, much as today work in high-impact journals garners far more attention than work in smaller journals.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 77

August 10, 2010

As they describe, reviewers serve an invaluable function. Unless a system of review, to sort the wheat from chaff, were developed (and, it appears that this has been given the least thought), the system would just be overrun with wannabes. \n\nEvery competent researcher recognizes the observation that it takes ten to one hundred times as much effort to generate quality as to generate trash and without constraint, competent research would be flushed away in such a river just as many thoughtful comments on some blogs are today.\n\nSelf-anointed reviewers, or those selected by mere numbers of contributions, would likely degenerate to a level seen on Wikipedia, so that's out. \n\nThat one can imagine and construct a web site to allow posting, retrieving, commenting on, or moving articles and data with membership, ratings, profiles etc is trivial. The hard problem to be solved is the same as it is in peer-reviewed journals - establishment of standards, enforcement of those standards, and review of content for all the issues mentioned by others here. While high standards and hierarchical control are hard to swallow by the more ambitious, without solving that problem, the rest is worthless.\n\nHopefully, many will try their hand at various on-line research publishing sites (I do like the idea) and, if they do, they likely will, as with various publishing societies today, come to be recognized as having high, medium and no standards and treated accordingly.


Posts: 3

August 13, 2010

The physics and mathematics communities, and related areas, make use of the arXiv server to post preprints. See The system is operated by Cornell University. and has many aspects of the system proposed in the posting. It has been very successful. ArXiv is readily searched buy Google. Physics and mathematics have not collapsed because unreviewed preprints are posted for all to see.
Avatar of: A Scientist

A Scientist

Posts: 1

August 24, 2010

This system is going to produce nothing but a heap of garbage unless some kind of review system is instituted. One could take systems from online stores like and as a guide to develop a system in which reviewers AND articles are ranked. A score should be calculated for each paper that takes the reviewers opinion AND his ranking into consideration. That way bad papers will disappear pretty quickly, and good ones get the appropriate recognition. \n\nPeer review is not perfect, by a long shot. But it ensures that at least 2-3 people carefully evaluate the work that is done, and this is a process that is far more involved than dragging a publication into my own inbox with a mouseclick.
Avatar of: Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor

Posts: 2

February 9, 2011

The internet has breathed new life into every crackpot bit of nonsense going, and has diluted and undermined knowledge left right and centre. Do we really want the scientific corpus to be victim to that?\n\nThe internet is great for all sorts of things, but robustly refining and extending knowledge isn't one of them (apart from where strictly controlled). Peer review is the classic raft -- the worst thing apart from everything else (and more or less unsinkable).

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