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OA is the beginning, not the end game, science needs rewiring

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John Wilbank in his recent blog post Integrate, Annotate, Federate makes some key points which i entirely share and work on. That is, Open Access is only the beginning. The most important work, on rewiring sciences, is about to start happening. And, like Wilbanks suggests, we have to loudly ask for it, work on it. It’s not going to happen “naturally”, we have to make it happen. Citations, as the only way of integrating scientific works, are not any more the only possible method, that has to change. Here’s his description of one of those principles:

Annotation is the second new essential function. The old method of annotation is through either writing a new paper that validates, invalidates, extends, or otherwise affects the assertions made in an old paper. Or if something is really wrong, there might be a letter to the editor or a retraction. In a wiki world, this is fundamentally insane. The paper is a snapshot of years of incremental knowledge progress. We have much better technology to use than dead trees.

Other than publishers providing annotation, Wilbanks suggests we need to move on and: “create an open platform that actually tracks the kind of annotation-relationships that the web enables”. Extending bloggers’ use of trackback, we should extend those protocols to connect articles, wiki pages, database entries …  which would make explicit, visible and trackable already existing links. A logical move would be to either implement pingback protocol in major software applications that are key for the other types of material. Or, if required to achieve that, to extend the protocol to support it.

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Written by Toni Prug

6 August 2009 at 12:07

Posted in Quick Research

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4 Responses

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  1. Do you want every ranting conspiracy theorist to be able to leave permanent comments on your research papers? One very good thing about peer review is that it excludes lunatics and people who are utterly ignorant about the topic under consideration. And there are a lot of them, and they love to post things on the web. Just look at the ‘talk’ page for a few controversial Wikipedia articles.

    Benjamin Geer

    6 August 2009 at 14:42

  2. I would delete comments on my research papers that i judge to come from a ranting conspiracy theorist. Also, they have more interesting things to do, from their perspective, which is take part in plethora of ranting forums websites. Self selecting mechanism works on the Web quite well.

    On the academic blogs that i read, there are three types of comments: a) quite a few of those blogs have comments closed; b) there are some boring or not interesting to me comments; c) there are very interesting productive comments which contribute to production of knowledge on the topic discussed. There’s enough of c) type of comments to make it worthwhile for me to read some of those academic blogs occasionally. I would have not started blogging if i didn’t notice those patterns.

    In short, there’s no evidence that specialist blogs (which is what those academic blogs are) suffer from any obstructions because they have comments open. Quite the contrary. Which for me makes Wilbanks’ words not a speculative idea (although i don’t mind these either if they make sense to me), but an observation on existing practice.

    As to Wikipedia talk pages on controversial articles, what you’re describing is a battle for a centralised scarce resource – that’s what Wikipedia is, hence battles to cement a particular view of reality in it.

    Toni Prug

    6 August 2009 at 15:27

  3. I wasted a lot of time, years ago, fighting with ignorant people, who had absolutely no sense of academic standards of research, over the content of an article on Wikipedia. True, Wikipedia is a scarce resource, but that is simply because it has credibility. Credibility is by definition a scarce resource. For researchers, the whole point of publishing in certain journals is that those journals have credibility, and are able to distribute credibility to authors by publishing their articles. Journals are thus the targets of exactly the same kinds of battles, except that they take place only between specialists, because journals use all kinds of filters (including but not limited to peer review) to keep out non-specialists. And that’s a good thing, in my view.

    Blogs aren’t currently the focus of struggles for credibility, because blogs have very little credibility to distribute. If blogs had as much credibility as academic journals, I’m sure they would be bombarded with as much stupidity as I was when trying to write on Wikipedia.

    Benjamin Geer

    6 August 2009 at 16:45

    • Good points on credibility and specialists. I have a very simple problem: a tiny minority of what is in the good journals in broad set of fields i read (sociology, philosophy, cultural studies, anthropology, political theory) is good, and useful production of knowledge. That’s according to my own standards. The current model doesn’t work for me. Hence, more reasons to try changing the model, especially when means (online tools and practices) are widely available.

      Toni Prug

      6 August 2009 at 17:29


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