↑ comment by Gram_Stone ·
2016-09-07T00:42:50.238Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I'm going to understand 'academic publishing without journals' broadly.
Has anyone else found themselves implicitly predicting how much academic research would be performed and published virtually in the future? Think things like Sci-Hub, academic blogosphere, increase in number of preprints, etc. Can you 'exit' mainstream academia?
So, will the amount of academic research published in the blogosphere increase over time? It’s hard for me to imagine a non-interesting answer to this question. If it increased, wouldn’t that be interesting? And if it stayed about the same or decreased, wouldn’t you wonder why?
Er, could the blogosphere function as a compliment or partial substitute of the traditional academic community? If not, why not?
The first intuitive objection that crosses my mind goes something like: “You cannot build the Large Hadron Collider in your backyard.” My immediate reply is, “Not yet.” But that seems fair. You probably can’t, at the moment, do experiments that currently require massive amounts of coordination and funding without going through the existing academic system.
But with that said, I think to ask, “What fraction of academic work is like that?” I’m sure it varies by field, but if a substantial amount of academic work can be done virtually, then you could still be pretty competitive from a keyboard, insofar as this is a competition. Think of all the theoretical work and lit reviews and data interpretation.
The second intuitive objection that crosses my mind goes something like: “Science is Big, blogosphere is small.”
This is often a good metaphor. Boulders beat bunnies in crushing contests. Walmart beats Mom and Pop in profit contests. Bigger is often better. But I think this is a very weird case of competition between firms. For one, academic papers aren’t really fungible. It doesn’t matter if you buy a Snickers bar from Mom and Pop or if you buy one from Walmart, and if it’s cheaper at Walmart, then you’ll buy it there. In the academic case, you could switch out one copy of my paper on high-pressure chocolate pudding dynamics with another, and everything would be fine, but you cannot in general exchange my paper on pudding dynamics with someone else’s paper on the neuropsychology of flower aesthetics and get the same work done. And beyond that, there is an ancient tradition of making scientific data public. You could conceivably obtain a monopoly on Snickers retailing, but if there were some effort to systematically starve any particular group of data, I imagine that being pretty controversial. I also don’t imagine that being very practical, at least not any more than any other historical effort to prevent people from copying digital information. It’s too easy to copy. The traditional publishers are sort of already trying this right now and miserably failing.
After I ask whether or not the idea is worth exploring, I think to ask why it hasn’t happened more, and whether or not it can be made to happen more.
Robin Hanson did an answering session on Quora recently, and he said that at times he’s had to consider whether he would publish something traditionally or blog about it. So, to think about it one way, why do academics currently prefer publishing in mainstream academia to publishing in the blogosphere?
Are the only reasons, 'an overwhelming majority of academics publish in mainstream academia', 'publishing in mainstream academia is more prestigious than publishing in the blogosphere', and 'mainstream academia is the only way to get paid for doing research'? If those were the only reasons, this might mean that the relative unpopularity of the blogosphere for academic publication is just a matter of inertia. This seems like it would be a bad thing. And that’s an honest question: “Why do academics currently prefer publishing in mainstream academia to publishing in the blogosphere?” It’s easy for me to imagine that I’ve missed something because I’ve never experienced what it’s like to be an academic.
To think about it in another way, do academics have incentives to publish in the blogosphere as opposed to mainstream academia?
I think this is already answered weakly in the affirmative. Academic criticism is published in mainstream academia, but there are also bloggers who publish criticism in the blogosphere pseudonymously/anonymously instead in order to preserve their careers and reputations, and to avoid entry costs (which can include personal effort). This is sad. Also, it may be easy to lump this sort of work in with journalism, but the criticism can get quite technical, and it would have been published in mainstream academia otherwise.
The thing I found interesting about the link in the parent comment wasn't the reputation system, but the idea of post-publication review becoming widespread. I would be so happy if scientists just blogged at each other instead of waiting for enough content to make a passable paper. I would be so happy if, instead of publishing another paper, scientists just wrote kickass comments and let the OP update what they had. There's no reason you couldn't assign status for that. That's happened historically here. The Stack Exchange Network is also kind of like this. Post-publication review makes me excited. You can get status without maximizing a number (or, publication count; maybe there's karma.)
Most generally: there are already people who prefer the Internet to academia; I wonder just how far and in what way you'd have to push things to make this preference ordering more common.