…language does do much of our thinking for us, even in the sciences, and rather than being an unfortunate contamination, its influence has been productive historically, helping individual thinkers generate concepts and theories that can then be put to the test. The case made here for the constitutive power of figures [of speech] per se supports the general point made by F.L. Holmes in a lecture addressed to the History of Science Society in 1987. A distinguished historian of medicine and chemistry, Holmes based his study of Antoine Lavoisier on the French chemist’s laboratory notebooks. He later examined drafts of Lavoisier’s published papers and discovered that Lavoisier wrote many versions of his papers and in the course of careful revisions gradually worked out the positions he eventually made public (Holmes, 221). Holmes, whose goal as a historian is to reconstruct the careful pathways and fine structure of scientific insights, concluded from his study of Lavoisier’s drafts
We cannot always tell whether a thought that led him to modify a passage, recast an argument, or develop an alternative interpretation occurred while he was still engaged in writing what he subsequently altered, or immediately afterward, or after some interval during which he occupied himself with something else; but the timing is, I believe, less significant than the fact that the new developments were consequences of the effort to express ideas and marshall supporting information on paper (225).
– page xi of Rhetorical Figures in Science by Jeanne Fahnestock, Oxford University Press, 1999.
Lavoisier wrote at least six drafts of the paper over a period of at least six months. However, his theory of respiration did not appear until the fifth draft. Clearly, Lavoisier’s writing helped him refine and understand his ideas.
Here is a glimpse into scholarly communication 20 years ago, from a paper about Alzforum, the Alzheimer Research Forum website. “In July of 1996, the website made its debut at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders in Osaka, Japan.”1
Having established a foothold in cyberspace, the challenge for Alzforum was and continues to be to define new types of scientific publishing that take advantage of the speed and wide distribution of the Web and to curate and add value to information available from other public sources. This is a perennial challenge, thanks to the rapid advances in biomedical resources on the Web.
This uphill struggle, however, seems less strenuous when we compare the current situation with the “old days.” Recall that in 1996, PubMed did not exist! (PubMed was launched in June of 1997.) Medical institutions had access to Medline, but in order for Alzforum to produce its Papers of the Week listings, the editor had to ask the Countway Medical Library at Harvard Medical School to provide weekly text files listing newly indexed AD papers. The Alzforum hired a curator to paraphrase each abstract so that this information could be posted without violating journal copyrights. These documents were manually edited, sent out in a weekly email to the advisors for comments, and compiled into a static HTML page. Looking back, we can see that the entire process seems as antiquated as the hand-copying of manuscripts in the Middle Ages.
From pages 459-460 of “Alzheimer Research Forum: a knowledge base and e-community for AD research”2
page 458, Kinoshita, June, and Gabrielle Strobel. “Alzheimer Research Forum: a knowledge base and e-community for AD research.” in Alzheimer: 100 Years and Beyond, Mathias Jucker, Konrad Beyreuther, Christian Haass, Roger M. Nitsch, Yves Christen, eds. Berlin Heidelberg:Springer-Verlag, 2006: 457-463. [↩]
Kinoshita, June, and Gabrielle Strobel. “Alzheimer Research Forum: a knowledge base and e-community for AD research.” in Alzheimer: 100 Years and Beyond, Mathias Jucker, Konrad Beyreuther, Christian Haass, Roger M. Nitsch, Yves Christen, eds. Berlin Heidelberg:Springer-Verlag, 2006: 457-463. [↩]
So far a few publishers (including PNAS) have implemented it as a pilot. Apparently the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery is apparently leading this effort, I’d be really interested in speaking with them further:
Jason Priem has a wonderful slidedeck on how to smoothly transition from today’s practices in scientific communication to the future. Here is my reading of the argument given in Jason’s slides:
Communicating science is a central and essential part of doing science, and we have always used the best technology available.
Yet currently, there are several problems with journals, the primary form of scholarly communication.
Journal publication is
Hard to innovate
Restrictive format: function follows form
Inconsistent quality control
These problems are fixable, if we realize that journals serve four traditional functions:
By decoupling these functions, into an a la carte publishing menu, we can fix the scholarly communication system. Decoupled scholarly outlets already exist. Jason mentions some outlets (I would say these mainly serve registration functions, maybe also dissemination ones):
Faculty of 1000 Research
Jason doesn’t mention here — but we could add to this list — systems for data publishing, e-science workflow, and open notebook science; these may fulfil registration and archiving functions. Also, among existing archiving systems, we could add the journal archiving functions of LOCKSS is the main player I’m familiar with.
Jason’s argument well worth reading in full; it’s a well-articulated argument for decoupling journal functions, with some detailed descriptions of altmetrics. The core argument is very solid, and of wide interest: Unlike previous articulations for “pre-publication peer review”, this argument will make sense to everyone who believes in big data, I think. There are other formats: video of the talk1 and a draft article called “Decoupling the scholarly journal”2.
by Jason Priem and Bradley M. Hemminger, under review for the Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience special issue “Beyond open access: visions for open evaluation of scientific papers by post-publication peer review” [↩]
One thing I can say about Kindle: error reporting is easier.
You report problems in context, by selecting the offending text. No need to explain where - just what the problem is.
Feedback receipt is confirmed, along with the next steps for how it will be used.
By contrast, to report problems to academic publishers, you often must fill out an elaborate form (e.g. Springer or Elsevier). Digging up contact information often requires going to another page (e.g. ACM.). Some make you *both* go to another page to leave feedback and then fill out a form (e.g. EBSCO). Do any academic publishers keep the context of what journal article or book chapter you’re reporting a problem with? (If so, I’ve never noticed!)
I tried out the beta of a new commercial tool, The Altmetric Explorer, from Altmetric.com. They are building on the success and ideas of the academic and non-profit community (but not formally associated with Altmetrics.org). The Altmetric Explorer gives overviews of articles and journals by the social media mentions. You can filter by publisher, journal, subject, source, etc. Altmetric Explore has a closed beta, but you can try the basic functionality on articles with their open tool, the PLoS Impact explorer.
"The default view shows the articles mentioned most frequently in all sources, from all journals. Various filters are available.
Rolling over the donut shows which sources (Twitter, blogs, ...) an article was mentioned in.
Sparklines can be used to compare journals.
A 'people' tab lets you look at individual messages. Rolling over the photo or avatar shows the poster's profile.
Altmetric.com seems largely aimed at publishers2. This may add promotional noise, not unlike coercive citation, if it is used as an evaluation metric as they suggest:3
Want to see which journals have improved their profile in social media or with a particular news outlet?
Their API is currently free for non-commercial use. Altmetric.com are crawling Twitter since July 2011 and focusing on papers with PubMed, arXiv, and DOI identifiers. They also get data from Facebook, Google+, and blogs, but they don’t disclose how. (I assume that blogs using ResearchBlogging code are crawled, for instance.)
“Altmetric sustains itself by selling more detailed data and analysis tools to publishers, institutions and academic societies.”, says the bookmarklet page, to explain why that is free [↩]
‘This quote from an editor as a condition for publication highlights the problem: “you cite Leukemia [once in 42 references]. Consequently, we kindly ask you to add references of articles published in Leukemia to your present article”’-from the abstract of Science. 2012 Feb 3;335(6068):542-3. Scientific publications. Coercive citation in academic publishing. Wilhite AW, Fong EA. summary on Science Daily. [↩]
Sometimes people are important to you not for who they are, but for what they do. Michael S. Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg, is one such person. While I never met him, Michael’s work has definitely impacted my life: The last book I finished1, like most of my fiction reading over the past 3 years, was a public domain ebook. I love the illustrations.
The first personal computer: KENBAK-1 (1971)
In 1971, the idea of pleasure reading on screens must have been novel. The personal computer had just been invented; a KENBAK-1 would set you back $750 — equivalent to $4200 in 2011 dollars2.
Xerox Sigma V-SDS mainframe
Project Gutenberg’s first text — the U.S. Declaration of Independence — was keyed into a mainframe, about one month after Unix was first released34. That mainframe, a Xerox Sigma V, was one of the first 15 computers on the Internet (well, technically, ARPANET)5. Project Gutenberg is an echo of the generosity of some UIUC sysadmins: The first digital library began a gift back to the world in appreciation of access to that computer.
This is my kind of performance art, from this year’s Printer’s Ball. Got pictures, anybody?
Busted Books: The Great Soaking. Performance by Davis Schneiderman. Attendees are invited to use a artisan-constructed dunk tank to soak either a book or a Kindle—depending upon the dunker’s feelings regarding the printed word and e-readers. With this simple choice, this physical act, readers can finally stop theorizing about the future of the book and do something about it.
How well do you know Wikipedia? Get to know it a little better by looking at how your favorite article changes over time. To inspire you, here are two examples.
Jon Udell’s screencast about ‘Heavy Metal Umlaut’ is a classic, looking back (in 2005) at the first two years of that article. It points out the accumulation of information, vandalism (and its swift reversion), formatting changes, and issues around the verifiability of facts.