Science; Sociology and institution design for

Scientist, research thyself

Upon the thing that I presume academic publishing is supposed to do: further science. Reputation system and other mechanisms for trust in science, a.k.a. collective knowledge for reality itself.

I would like to consider the system of peer review, networking, conferencing, publishing and acclaim and see how closely it approximates an ideal system for uncovering truth, and further, imagine how we could make a better system. But I do not do that right now, I just collect some provocative links to that theme, in hope of time for more thought later.

Vesaelius pioneers scientific review by peering Used under licence from the University of Basel

pubpeer (who are behind peeriodicals) produces a peer-review overlay for web browsers to spread their commentary and peer critique more widely. The site is itself brusquely confusing, but well blogged; you’ll get the idea. They are not afraid of invective, and I thought they looked more amateurish than effective. But I was wrong; they are quite selective and they seem to be near the best elective peer review today.🎶 This system been implicated in topical high-profile retractions (e.g. 1 2.

  • Related question: How do we discover research to peer review?

  • Robin Hanson, of course, has much to say on potentially better mechanism design for scientific discovery. I have qualms about his implied cash rewards system crowding out reputational awards; I think there is something to be said for that particular economy; but yes why not try it out?

  • Here’s a thing I would like to be said a little better, but think is important An Adversarial Review of “Adversarial Generation of Natural Language”: The argument is that even though it’s nice that arxiv avoids some of the problems of traditional publishing, it has some of the problems that traditional publishing tries to avoid. This was foreseeable.

  • Cameron Neylon runs a cottage industry producing pragmatic publishing critique from an institutional economics perspective:

    e.g. The Marginal Costs of Article Publishing or A Journal is a Club:

    we’d been talking about communities, cultures, economics, “public-making” but it was the word ‘club’ and its associated concepts, both pejorative and positive that crystalised everything. We were talking about the clubbishness of making knowledge — the term “Knowledge Clubs” emerged quickly — but also the benefits that such a club might gain in choosing to invest in wider sharing.

    Working paper: Potts et al. (2016). Alternatively, see Afonso (2013), “How Academia resembles a drug gang”.

    How to Get Something Out of Neoliberal Critique Without (Immediately) Overthrowing the Capitalist System:

    In the business setting this often leads incumbent publishers to a kind of spluttering defense of the value they create, while simultaneously complaining that the customer doesn’t appreciate their work. Flip the target slightly and we’d call this “missing the new market opportunity” or “failing to express the value offering clearly”. […]

    Lingua, […] has gone from one of the most important journals in analytical linguistics to no longer being in the field, and seems well on its way to becoming irrelevant. How does a company as competent in its business strategy as Elsevier let this happen? I would argue, as I did at the time that the former editorial board of Lingua resigned to form Glossa that it was a failure to understand the assets.

    The neoliberal analysis of Lingua showed an asset generating good revenues, with good analytics and a positive ROI. The capitalist analysis focussed on the fixed assets and trademarks. But it turns out these weren’t what was creating value. What was creating value was the community, built around an editorial board and the good will associated with that.

    Also, see Pushing costs downstream.`

Here is an interesting edge case in peer review and scientific reputation. Adam Becker, Junk Science or the Real Thing? ‘Inference’ Publishes Both. As far as I’m concerned, publishing crap in itself is not a catastrophic. A process that fails to discourage crap would be bad.

What is academia for?

(Baldwin 2018):

This essay traces the history of refereeing at specialist scientific journals and at funding bodies and shows that it was only in the late twentieth century that peer review came to be seen as a process central to scientific practice. Throughout the nineteenth century and into much of the twentieth, external referee reports were considered an optional part of journal editing or grant making. The idea that refereeing is a requirement for scientific legitimacy seems to have arisen first in the Cold War United States. In the 1970s, in the wake of a series of attacks on scientific funding, American scientists faced a dilemma: there was increasing pressure for science to be accountable to those who funded it, but scientists wanted to ensure their continuing influence over fundingonline decisions. Scientists and their supporters cast expert refereeing—or “peer review,” as it was increasingly called—as the crucial process that ensured the credibility of science as a whole. Taking funding decisions out of expert hands, they argued, would be a corruption of science itself. This public elevation of peer review both reinforced and spread the belief that only peer-reviewed science was scientifically legitimate.

Thomas Basbøll says

It is commonplace today to talk about “knowledge production” and the university as a site of innovation. But the institution was never designed to “produce” something nor even to be especially innovative. Its function was to conserve what we know. It just happens to be in the nature of knowledge that it cannot be conserved if it does not grow.

Andrew Marzoni, Academia is a cult. Adam Becker on on the assumptions and pathologies revealed by Wolfram’s latest branding and positioning:

So why did Wolfram announce his ideas this way? Why not go the traditional route? “I don’t really believe in anonymous peer review,” he says. “I think it’s corrupt. It’s all a giant story of somewhat corrupt gaming, I would say. I think it’s sort of inevitable that happens with these very large systems. It’s a pity.”

So what are Wolfram’s goals? He says he wants the attention and feedback of the physics community. But his unconventional approach—soliciting public comments on an exceedingly long paper—almost ensures it shall remain obscure. Wolfram says he wants physicists’ respect. The ones consulted for this story said gaining it would require him to recognize and engage with the prior work of others in the scientific community.

And when provided with some of the responses from other physicists regarding his work, Wolfram is singularly unenthused. “I’m disappointed by the naivete of the questions that you’re communicating,” he grumbles. “I deserve better.”


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