Truly Brief Communications

The Journal of Brief Ideas, a platform that publishes 200-word articles, launches in beta.

Feb 18, 2015
Dalmeet Singh Chawla

FLICKR, THEREALDAVIDFRANCISPhysicist David Harris finds the current convention of scientific publishing—in which researchers conduct experiments in private before making their novel ideas public—inefficient. So he developed a platform that enables researchers to publish their ideas online in real time, making them immediately available for public scrutiny. The Journal of Brief Ideas, which launched in beta this month, is a citable online index of research articles that are 200 words or fewer.

Similar to preprints, non-peer-reviewed articles that are published online, articles published in Brief Ideas do not necessarily resemble the traditional publication format. There’s no need to include materials and methods, for example. An author might choose to submit only a research proposal of sorts.

“There is intellectual capital locked up in the heads of scientists rather than circulating in the scientific community,” said Harris. As a result, he added, “people often get similar ideas around about the same time, frantically work on it for quite a long time, put a lot of resources into it, without even necessarily knowing if there are other people doing the exact same thing.”

Because their submissions will be searchable, time-stamped, and open-access, authors can easily claim credit for their work. For now, the journal only rates the articles according to readers’ votes, Harris explained. Eventually, though, he plans to apply an algorithm that will account for factors like page views and citations.

His ultimate goal is to enhance collaboration between different fields by accepting diverse submissions ranging from natural and social sciences to art and architecture, said Harris. The journal is currently accepting submissions free of charge, but may institute a subscription fee down the line to cover costs.

“I like the idea of giving people a place to publish ideas or snippets of things,” said biologist Michael Eisen of the University of California, Berkeley, who cofounded the open-access publisher PLOS. “[But] if the journal is just a place where people dump their thoughts, it could get crowded pretty quickly.”

“The world of scholarly research is very conservative when it comes to the structure of its communications—the traditional article doesn't seem like it is going away any time soon,” said Matthew Cockerill, cofounder of open-access publisher BioMed Central and the cloud-computing startup Riffyn.

“I don’t see this as replacing traditional science journals,” added Harris. “I see it as complementing them. I think that they can work hand-in-hand.” For instance, he noted, idea articles could trigger studies that are later published in more traditional journals.

“The big question is whether researchers will be sufficiently motivated to contribute such ‘short form’ publications,” said Cockerill. “The key to that is whether publishing a highly ranked idea is seen as having as much value, in scholarly terms, as publishing a highly cited traditional article. Less is very often more.”