Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yet another great review of Reinventing Discovery

The book, Reinventing Discovery, is amazing!  Go out and buy yourself a copy RIGHT NOW!  Really, it is that good.

Considering how much this book covers the issues and problems of the modern scholarly communication industry, I was surprised to see that the term libraries only shows up once in the index of the book.  Even then, libraries are only mentioned in the notes section of the book.  He notes that academic libraries and publishers are not institutions that will be developing the new tools for the construction of knowledge in the future.  He says that "the right place for such tools to originate is with scientists themselves." He also noted that "libraries and scientific publishers are not, for the most part, set up to work on such risky and radical innovations."  For the most part, I agree with the statement that many librarians and library systems are risk averse, but there are many librarians (and some publishers) who have great ideas, insights and will provide innovative solutions for the long term advancement of scientific communication.

I know that Michael received a lot of advice and communication from members of the library and open science community, so I am a little surprised that libraries were not mentioned more often in the book.

The best chapter for me was Chapter 9: The Open Science Imperative.  Much of the book and much of the chapter is available online at Google Books, so go read some of it there.

I wish Michael would have talked a little more about some of the cultural issues that are holding scientists back from doing more open science. There are some positive financial and social incentives to encourage more scientists to do open science, but academic department administrators and deans still tell junior faculty that they have to publish in the closed access Journal of X, the limited access Journal of Y and/or the Transactions of Z in order to get tenure.  The academic bean counters may find it easier to evaluate a researcher based on the supposed quality of journal title containers, than it is to evaluate the quality of specific articles within those journals.  Mike Taylor noted that:
Because of the stupid way researchers are usually evaluated (and this is another whole issue), the intrinsic quality of our work matters less than the brand name of the journal it’s published in. So we have strong selfish reasons for wanting to get our work into the “best” journals, even if it is at the cost of effective communication.
Happily, there are signs of movement in this direction: for example, The Wellcome Trust says “it is the intrinsic merit of the work, and not the title of the journal in which an author’s work is published, that should be considered in making funding decisions.” We need more funding and hiring bodies to make such declarations. Only then will researchers will be free of the need (real or apparent) to prop up parasitic publishers by sending their best work to big-name, barrier-based journals.
More change needs to take place within the hundreds of academic departments.  But, if the major funders such as the NIH and the Wellcome Trust (and many other funding organizations) can continue to provide money as the carrot for positive open science innovation, then we have a bright future ahead.  This is why I support the Federal Research Public Access Act. When this passes, this will encourage more scientists to do science in the open.

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