Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Writing Papers?

(I already mentioned this in the comment of another blog, but I thought this is interesting enough to warrant a short comment here)

While perusing my daily blogs I came across an interesting article on writing academic papers.  Apparently computer science papers nowadays are simply formulaic repetitions of the same stuff several times, and could be a lot shorter, was it not for the tradition of publishing them on paper.

I am rather critical of the current academic publishing model: you do research, write it up, it gets reviewed, rejected, rewritten, then finally published, and then the publisher charges your university to access the paper you spent so much of your work time on.  Who benefits?  The publishers?  Definitely not the academics nor the universities who fund the whole circus.  There are of course incentives, RAE recognition etc, which somewhat introduces a market element to it.  But by the time a paper has been published it might well be out of date already.

My other bugbear is peer review.  It's a bit like Churchill's quote about democracy being the worst system of government except all others.  I don't believe it works, as it promotes conservative mainstream work which is uncontroversial (I'm overgeneralising here a bit) and doesn't threaten anybody's research areas.  Really groundbreaking new stuff usually gets rejected and published only in obscure minor journals.  However, I do accept that publishing everything is also not a feasible option.  I'm stuck for a better alternative.

But blogs replacing academic papers might be an option.  Especially if you can refer to them (in which case they'd need to be non-volatile/persistent), and perhaps rate them.  Or, google-style, blog entries with a lot of links to them get a higher ranking.  Which opens another can of worms, of course.  It might also be a chance for the great leveling tool The Web to work its magic, as everybody and their dog can publish stuff.  But obscure publications would probably not make it into the rankings if usually ignored.  And peer review has not saved us from that, either (see the MMR dispute for one thing).

Any suggestions for improvement welcomed!


  1. Perhaps a system of managed blogs whereby they are open for all to read, but only nominated academics can comment/vote..?

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  3. But then who are these nominated academics? Doesn't this sink back into Oliver's worries about a structural conservatism?

    There is certainly one thing I like about Peer Review -- the anonymity. I like that a reviewer for journal A can't say, "Oh this is by academic X who wrote that dire paper for journal B: scrap it" nor "Oh this is written by the wonderful academic Y, who towers above the field -- it must be published". Reputations (ideally) don't come into it in the blind system. With blogs (even when using pseudonyms, assuming these are consistent), and indeed with citation indices, this is lost.

  4. Mmmh, not sure about the anonymity... I all cases where I've been asked to review a paper for a journal I pretty much knew who the author was, even though it was all anonymised. In a small field you know what other people are doing, and it's hard if not impossible to not know who wrote something.