The big idea: Should the scientific paper be discarded? | books

WChicken was the last time you saw a scientific paper? My body means. The older academic in my former university department used to keep all his science journals in recycled cornflakes cans. Upon entering his office, you will be greeted by a wall of Kellogg’s roosters, which occupies a shelf on the shelf, on packets containing various issues of Journal of Experimental Psychology, Psychophysiology, Journal of Neuropsychology, and the like. It was a strange sight, but there was a way: If you don’t keep your journals organized, how are you expected to find the exact paper you were looking for?

The time for cans of cornflakes has passed: now we have the Internet. Having been printed on paper since the opening of the first scientific journal in 1665, the vast majority of papers are now submitted, reviewed, and read online. During the pandemic, he has often been devoured on social media, which is an essential part of the Covid-19 story unfolding. Increasingly, print editions of magazines are seen as intriguing – or not shown at all.

But even though the internet has changed the way we read it, the general system for how we read it Publish The science remains largely unchanged. We still have scientific papers. We still send it to our peer reviewers; We still have editors giving the final thumbs up or down as to whether a research paper was published in their journal.

This system comes with major problems. Chief among these is the issue of publication bias: Reviewers and editors are more likely to submit a well-written scientific paper and publish it in their journals if it delivers positive or exciting results. So scientists go to great lengths to tease their studies, rely on their analyzes so that they can get “better” results, and sometimes commit fraud in order to impress these important guards. This radically distorts our view of what actually happened.

There are some possible solutions that change the way magazines work. Perhaps the decision to publish could be made based solely on the study’s methodology, and not on its results (this is already happening to a modest extent in a few journals). Perhaps only scientists can publish everyone Their research by default, and journals will organize, rather than decide, the results that reach the world. But maybe we can go ahead and get rid of scientific papers altogether.

Scientists are obsessed with research papers—specifically, with more scientific papers published in their name, and expanding the important “publications” section of their resume. So it would seem outrageous to suggest that we can do without it. But this obsession is the problem. Ironically, the sacred prestige of A Published and peer-reviewed paper It makes it difficult to get the contents of those papers correctly.

Consider the messy reality of scientific research. Studies often release strange and unexpected numbers that complicate any simple explanation. But traditional paper – word count and all – very well force you to neglect things. If what you’re working towards is a big goal and a milestone for a published paper, the temptation is always there to offer some rough edges to your results, to help “tell a better story”. Many scientists admit, in surveys, that they do just that—making their findings in unambiguously attractive research papers, but distorting the science along the way.

And look at the corrections. We know that scientific papers regularly contain errors. One algorithm that ran through thousands of research papers in psychology found that, at worst, more than 50% had a specific statistical error, and more than 15% had an error serious enough to nullify the results. With papers, correcting this kind of error is laborious: you have to write in the journal, grab the attention of a busy editor, and get them to issue a short new paper that formally details the correction. Many scholars who request corrections find themselves cornered or ignored by journals. Imagine the number of errors littered with uncorrected scientific literature because doing so is too much hassle.

Finally, consider the data. Back in the day, sharing the raw data that formed the basis of the paper with the readers of that paper was somewhat impossible. Now this can be done in a few clicks, by uploading the data to an open repository. However, we act as if we lived in yesterday’s world: the data is still barely attached, preventing reviewers and readers from seeing the full picture.

The solution to all of these problems is the same as the answer to “How do I organize my magazines if I don’t use boxes of corn chips?” Use the internet. We can change the papers into mini websites (sometimes called “notebooks”) that provide candid reports on the results of a particular study. Not only does it give everyone a view of the whole process from data to analysis and even writing – the dataset will be appended to the website along with all the statistical code used to analyze it, and anyone can reproduce and verify the full analysis and get the same numbers – but any Corrections quickly and efficiently, with the date and time of all updates publicly recorded.

This would be a huge improvement on the status quo, where papers are analyzed and written entirely privately, and then scientists choose on a whim whether to make their findings public. Sure, casting sunlight on the whole process might reveal some hard-to-explain ambiguities or inconsistencies in the results – but that’s what science really does. There are also other potential benefits to this high-tech method of disseminating science: for example, if you are doing a long-term study on climate or child development, it will be easy to add new data as it appears.

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There are barriers to big changes like this. Some have to do with skills: It’s easy to write a Word document with your results and send it to a journal, as we do now; It’s hard to build a laptop website that fuses data, code, and interpretation together. More importantly, how would peer review work in this scenario? It has been suggested that scientists could employ “red teams” – people whose job is to spot holes in your results – to dig into their notebook locations and test them for destruction. But who will pay, and how exactly the system will work, is up for discussion.

We have made amazing progress in many areas of science, yet we are still stuck in the old, flawed model of research publishing. In fact, even the name “paper” dates back to a bygone era. Some areas of science are already moving in the direction I describe here, using online notebooks instead of journals – living documents rather than living fossils. It’s time for the rest of science to follow suit.

in-depth reading

Why do you trust science? Written by Naomi Oreskes

The Seven Deadly Sins of Psychology: A Manifesto for Reforming the Culture of Scientific Practice by Chris Chambers

Rigor Mortis: How dirty science creates worthless cures, crushes hope and wastes billions Written by Richard Harris

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