Scientific advances sometimes come as lightning flashes of
inspiration. But when scientists sit down to record and take credit
for what they've found, they still use much the same method they
have for decades - an article published in a scholarly journal.
But science's hidebound traditions are changing. The Internet has
opened up new forms of publishing in which anyone in the world can
find and read a scientific paper. And papers themselves are becoming
more interactive, leading readers to the underlying data, videos,
and discussions that augment their value. With blogs and e-books
providing easy means of self-publishing, some observers are
speculating that scholarly journals and their controversial system
of peer reviews may not be needed at all.
"The traditional journal publishing medium we've grown used to
really needs to evolve and change because that's not the way people
are accessing information," says Mark Gerstein, a professor of
biomedical informatics at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Dr.
Gerstein cowrote an article, "The Death of the Scientific Paper,"
which appeared last year on
~~a href="http://The-Scientist.com" target="_blank"~~The-
Scientist.com~~/a~~, an online science magazine.
If the hopes of innovators bear fruit, scientific advances will
come ever more quickly as online publishing makes past research
easier to access and share widely.
Two new scientific publications, both available only online, may
signal what's ahead. The PLoS ONE (
~~a href="http://plosone.org" target="_blank"~~plosone.org~~/
a~~), a journal begun by the Public Library of Science (PLoS) last
month, aims to put as many new scientific articles as possible on
the Internet to be read by anyone, free of charge. The Journal of
Visualized Experiments, or JoVE (
~~a href="http://myjove.com" target="_blank"~~myjove.com~~/a~~),
is a kind of YouTube for researchers. It operates on the theory that
a short video showing how an experiment is done is better than
thousands of words that attempt to describe it.
At PLoS ONE, which aspires to be a general science journal along
the lines of Science and Nature, the papers themselves are only a
starting point. Readers can annotate, comment on, and critique the
findings: Their contributions become permanently attached to the
original article. At least one commentator has likened this process
to a kind of "electronic Talmud," in which the original document
receives elaborate commentary and discussion that over time adds
greatly to its value.
In coming months, says Chris Surridge, the managing editor of
PLoS ONE, readers also will be able to rate papers on their quality,
such as how surprising or groundbreaking the results were - much in
the way Netflix subscribers rate movies they rent using one- to five-
star ratings. In this sense, PLoS ONE is moving toward a Web 2.0
model, which focuses on user-generated content strategies already
used by websites such as Digg.com, Slashdot.org, or Amazon.com.
For years, traditional "peer review" has come under fire. A jury
of three experts, the peer reviewers, assess each article and
recommend only those that they feel represent the most significant
new work. At many elite scientific journals, fewer than 10 percent
of the articles submitted are accepted. Many of the rejected
articles eventually travel down the "food chain" to be published in
a plethora of less prestigious (and less noticed) specialty
A year ago, the respected US journal Science was forced to
retract two papers it had published about stem cells. The articles
had been submitted by a South Korean team led by Hwang Woo-Suk. Peer
reviewers, as well as the editors, had failed to detect the fraud.
In general, peer reviewers, themselves researchers pressed for
time, don't try to re-create experiments and rarely ask to see the
raw data that supports a paper's conclusions. …