07 September 2012

Why I published a paper on my blog instead of a journal

TL;DR: I had a research project that has been sitting for more than a decade without finding a home in a scientific journal, so I decided to post it on my blog instead as an experiment.

Yesterday, I posted an original scientific paper here on my blog. The obvious question is, “Why is it on the blog instead of in a peer-reviewed journal?”

This project goes way back to the last century. I was doing my first post-doc, and I applied for an NSERC post-doctoral fellowship. I proposed a project that came out of my Ph.D. research. I had been studying leg motor neurons in crustaceans (published in Faulkes and Paul 1997). There was this one paper about spiny lobsters that just did not jive with everything else I had found. In my fellowship application, I proposed to try to resolve those questions by re-examining spiny lobsters’ neurons – in other words, the project that I posted yesterday.

To my surprise, I got the fellowship. I used it to move to Australia and do a post-doc with David Macmillan. It was a wonderful experience. But what happened to the proposed project was... normal research happened.

David Macmillan asked me to pick up another project in addition to the leg motor neuron one (Faulkes and Macmillan 2002), and help mentor an Honors student (Patullo et al. 2001).

I had setbacks in getting animals. Spiny lobsters were too hard to work with. Suppliers for slipper lobsters didn’t come through, and I thought I was sunk until I finally stumbled on seafood place down the road that had live slipper lobsters. All hail the Queen Victoria Market!

Then, once I had the slipper lobsters, I made serendipitous discoveries that I just had to pursue. Discoveries like that slipper lobsters didn’t have giant neurons needed for escape behaviour (Faulkes 2004) and that they were diggers (Faulkes 2006a). And the seafood supplier came through again, with live spanner crabs, which I’d been dying to look at since my thesis on sand crabs (Faulkes 2006b).

I did the leg motor neuron project around all of those others during that post-doc. Clearly, I had lots to show for my time in Australia regardless. But that was a post-doc project, and I’m a tenured associate professor now, so... you can do the math. This has been sitting around, waiting, for over a decade, to see the light of day.

I haven’t even presented this research at a conference. I should have.

All that time, it’s been gnawing at me.

It’s been gnawing at me that I had this project done, but that it wasn’t out yet. Especially because this was the project that I had gone to Australia to do in the first place.

And it’s not been for lack of trying. I’ve submitted this paper, in one form or anther, to about three different journals over the years. It was rejected every time. I may post the reviews later in a separate post. In a nutshell, one of the major issues that the reviewers had was that the data just weren’t conclusive enough. And honestly, I think they’re right. It drives me nuts that I wasn’t able to pin down what was happening with those two medial cell bodies. Reviewers of a different paper that used the same techniques called the methods, “old fashioned.” If they were old fashioned before, they’d probably be criticized as ancient or obsolete today (even though they let me answer the questions).

What could I do? I’m not in Australia, so I couldn’t get more Ibacus. There are no slipper lobsters around the South Texas coastline that I know of. There was no way that I can get any more slipper lobster data.

For a long time, I thought I would try to do the anatomy of the leg motor neurons from another unstudied crustaceans, like a shrimp. It would turn it into a broader comparative paper with more data. But... that wouldn’t shore up the weaknesses in the slipper lobster data. Plus, even if I did get more data from another species, that would take even more time – time spent when I have enough other irons in the fire. How long would it take before this project would be out? Another decade?

I still considered submitting the manuscript, more or less in the form I posted, to yet another journal and trying my luck. But I couldn’t figure out what was an appropriate one. Journals that used to publish crustacean locomotion stuff don’t do much of that now, mainly because the number of researchers in the field has contracted. I was considering submitting it to the forthcoming PeerJ when it opened, for instance. Even then, that I agreed with the limitations that the reviewers pointed out to me meant that I didn’t fancy my odds. Nevertheless, I’m confident enough in what I wrote that I bet that if I keep at it, sooner or later I could find a home for the paper. But do I want to put it out in the Chinese Journal of Irreproducible Crap? Is that any better than burying it in my back yard (if I had a back yard)?

Those, if you like, are the negative reasons to publish the slipper lobster paper on my blog: because it sucks so much that it couldn’t get past the gate at a real journal.

But there are positive reasons to publish it on my blog, too.

Because I am tenured, I have the good fortune to be free to experiment a little. I’ve been productive enough the last few years that whether this slipper lobster paper gets out or not is not going to affect my promotion prospects, any grant applications, my career advancement, etc. Having tenure is supposed to be a way for people to try risky things.

I thought, “Let’s try something new.”

Regular readers will notice that over the last year or so, I’ve been experimenting with different ways of doing my science. I’ve written about independent science. I’ve participated in #SciFund in addition to writing regular grant proposals. I self-published my Presentation Tips ebook on Amazon. Publish some original science on my blog? Well, why not?

As I wrote back at the start of the second round of #SciFund (new emphasis):

(S)o many scientists are still in the place artists were. We’re waiting to be chosen. Waiting to be given permission. Working and working and working in the hope of being given a shot at the big time by someone else with more money, power, and influence. ...

It doesn’t always have to be that way now.

After all, in the last year we’ve seen Rosie Redfield live-blogging her research on arsenic life, even before depositing a complete pre-print in arXiv. And all of that was okay with Science magazine, who published the final version. The rules for biological publishing are not as rigid as they were. Putting manuscripts out on the Internet for people to see is not the absolute kiss of death for publication in a journal that it used to be. I’m thinking my blog post is functionally equivalent to a pre-print on arXiv. Maybe at some point, I can still get this into a real journal. (Hope springs eternal.)

I’ve also been paying attention to the people who say that scientific publishing is broken, and we should blow it up and start over. Lots of those people are basically advocating what I just did yesterday: “just blog the paper.” (The list of influences here is long and varied, and I can’t pull up all the relevant names, posts, ideas and such right at this moment.)

Could blogging research work? We won’t know until there are a few people crazy enough to try. It’s not without precedent. Bora Zivcovic had a blog post of original research that eventually was cited in a paper in a peer-reviewed journal. (Also crustaceans, coincidentally!) [Correction: I got this exactly wrong. Bora was making the point that his post was not cited. Redfaced that I didn’t re-read his post entirely.]

This paper was a good one to try for the experiment. As a scientist, you have to develop a gut instinct for evaluating your own work. Is this publishable? If I was reviewing this, what would I want to see? My instincts told me this paper was stuck in an uncomfortable zone between “publishable” and “shouldn’t see the light of day.” There’s enough good about it that I want to share it, but there’s enough shortcomings with it that I know it would be a continuing struggle to go through traditional scientific publishing.

I do not plan on doing this routinely. It was this very particular set of circumstances with this particular project that led me to try blogging it.

The problems I’ve had getting my slipper lobster paper published are far from unique. People talk about the “file drawer” problem: projects that were never published because they were negative results, or weren’t significantly novel, weren’t published fast enough to avoid getting scooped, or any number of other reasons. There might be a single experiment that that the reviewers think is inconclusive, so you take that out of the final manuscript, even though it might be a clue to other researchers. What do you do with all that data?

Figshare is partly a reaction to, and solution for, problems like this. It allows people to put up datasets and figures and such that wouldn’t going to make it into a paper on their own. (The two key data figures in yesterday’s post are on Figshare and have DOIs, making them citable on their own.)

But I wanted to do more than share the figures. I wanted to tell the scientific story. I wanted to give context to those figures. So, I’m trying this with a blog post.

Do I have concerns? Hell, yes. Another thing I’ve written routinely about on this blog are problems of archiving.

While I was converting the manuscript to blog format yesterday (almost as intense as if I were getting ready to submit it to a journal), I was updating the references. I was pleasantly surprised; almost amazed, honestly. Almost every paper was online, with a DOI, and a PDF. The exceptions were book chapters and a couple of now defunct journals. A lot of them did not used to be online; I know, because I’d checked. The commercial publishers have done a fine job in digitizing those back issues, and making a lot of that old literature more readily available than ever before.

I am worried about that blog post being ephemeral. I do plan to put up a PDF on my home page, and will probably deposit copies to my university library, too. Any other suggestions would be welcome.

Ultimately, I published the paper on my blog because it wasn’t doing anyone any good sitting on my hard drive. It may still not do anyone any good (it is pretty darned specialized, and there are not as many crustacean neurobiologists as there once were), but at least now the chance is more than zero.

Okay, everyone. Fire away. I know people are going to have opinions on this. Indeed, I bet that this will be like the situation where the DVD bonus features are more interesting than the actual movie: more people will care that I posted a paper on my blog than about crustacean motor neurons. And that is just one more positive reason to do it: publishing a paper on a blog is still unusual enough to be worth talking about. Another paper in a niche journal isn’t. Conversation starter, publicity stunt, call it what you will: I plead guilty.

Did I give up on trying for a peer-reviewed journal too easily? Am I showing the way for how science publishing will be done in the future? Am I crazy, or just completely crazy?

Related posts

The distal leg motor neurons of slipper lobsters, Ibacus spp. (Decapoda, Scyllaridae)

Abandonment issues by Al Dove (the homeless paper I mention in the postscipt was the one I posted yesterday)

External links

Why or why not cite blog posts in scientific papers?

Circadian Rhythm of Aggression in Crayfish


Faulkes Z. 2004. Loss of escape responses and giant neurons in the tailflipping circuits of slipper lobsters, Ibacus spp. (Decapoda, Palinura, Scyllaridae). Arthropod Structure & Development 33(2): 113-123. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.asd.2003.12.003

Faulkes Z. 2006a. Digging mechanisms and substrate preferences of shovel nosed lobsters, Ibacus peronii (Decapoda: Scyllaridae). Journal of Crustacean Biology 26(1): 69-72. http://dx.doi.org/10.1651/C-2628.1

Faulkes Z. 2006b. The locomotor toolbox of spanner crabs, Ranina ranina (brachyura, Raninidae). Crustaceana 79(2): 143-155. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156854006776952874

Faulkes Z, Macmillan DL. 2002. Effects of removal of muscle receptor organ input on the temporal structure of non-giant swimming cycles in the crayfish, Cherax destructor. Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology 35(3): 149-155. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1023624021000014734

Faulkes Z, Paul DH. 1997. A map of the distal leg motor neurons in the thoracic ganglia of four decapod crustacean species. Brain, Behavior and Evolution 49(3): 162-178. http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000112990 [Note: Yesterday’s post will make a lot more sense if you look at this paper.]

Patullo BP, Faulkes Z, Macmillan DL. 2001. Muscle receptor organs do not mediate load compensation during body roll and defense response extensions in the crayfish Cherax destructor. The Journal of Experimental Zoology 290(7): 783-790. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jez.1129

Photographs by David Paul.


Anonymous said...

This paper would be a perfect fit for PLOS ONE: I have edited non-model organism papers where I and the reviewers have balanced strength of support for conclusions with availability of more animals, and decided on acceptance subject to explicit acknowledgment of potential caveats.

Zen Faulkes said...

Physioprof: I thought about PLOS ONE. But the reviews I received when I submitted it to other journals shook my confidence. Honestly, I think PLOS ONE has done a pretty good job of publishing papers that are complete stories (though they are often short stories). I kept looking at this going, “Argh... not quite complete.”

Does PLOS ONE subscribe to the Ingelfinger Rule? ;)

Unknown said...

I did something similar:
This solved the archiving problem (as it was a hard copy that I sent to the institutions cited) but it set up a (low) paywall to purchase. I eventually got around that as well - it was originally published through Lulu, who allow you to create fee-free PDFs that they archive as well. So people were able to download the PDF for free and/or purchase a hard copy to read.
I caught a HELL of a lot of flack for doing this from other paleontologists, and it was because of some of the things you have mentioned. But the reasons driving it were also some of the things you mentioned - lack of access to specimens, etc. In addition to that, I am not a tenured professor so I didn't have any funds to travel and visit or purchase software to analyze the phylogenetic tree other than free, open-source stuff. :S
Anyway I certainly don't intend to repeat this method - the backlash was a bit intense. I considered, as physioprof suggested, PLoS ONE but did not submit there due to the high publication cost on the author (I later saw that this could be waived - if I had seen this I probably would have gone that route instead).
Anyway, fascinating to read someone else's struggle with this dilemma.

Coturnix said...

I guess you can argue that your blog is like a pre-print place, like your own personal arXiv.

Just a note - my crayfish post was not cited. I actually wrote once an angry post when someone published a relevant paper and did NOT cite it. But some years prior to that one of my "Clock Tutorial" posts was cited in a review paper, and later some of my posts about blogging have been cited in papers about blogging.

Zen Faulkes said...

Bora: Ooops! Sorry! I remembered the discussion but not the outcome.

neuromusic said...

hmm.... all very relevant points. why self publish (your own personal arxiv) and not use the "real" ArXiv though?

Zen Faulkes said...

Neuromusic: Last I looked, most of the biology papers in arXiv were computational, so my paper didn’t seem to be a good fit. Obviously, that’s not absolute, since Rosie Redfield’s paper was not computational.

The other reason was that publishing a paper in arXiv is not different or unusual now for science generally. Publishing on a blog - I think that’s pretty rare even for physics. (Though they’ll hold a press conference pretty fast.) The novelty factor of publishing on my blog was higher, so had more chance of generating discussion.

Morgan Jackson said...

This is great, and I knew it would only be a matter of time until somebody tried this! Good on you for being willing (and able) to experiment like this.

What I'm especially interested in is how/whether this article will be cited in the future. While I would argue that this should be considered a formal article just like if it were published in PLOS ONE or Nature, it seems most academic publishers are unwilling to acknowledge citable material on blogs as anything more than a footnote (a situation that I blogged about recently). While I doubt your paper will change many attitudes on its own, I think it's pretty clear there are new alternatives to academic publishing that need to be accepted by "traditional" publications.

Anonymous said...

Kudos for not letting all that effort be buried by the inefficiencies of the system.

I cannot understand what's the big deal about blogging experiments (old or new), in whatever form one wishes. Posting observations or data as small units as they emerge or even as a preprint article will only help make the science we do better, because it facilitates the critiquing process, especially useful at the formative stage of the project. I'd say this "release and publish" approach is more experiment friendly than the current norm. Thanks to @Figshare and arXiv we can do this now in an archivable manner.

May be we are just going back to the good old times.. I'm talking about the times when crustacean neurobiol. papers used to show up in Nature more frequently.

Another point, if the peers think that the open content is very useful, the post (or article) may even get promoted to become a part of formal extra-peer-reviewed-article. This has happened for me once (http://goo.gl/HLRXz). I was so happy about this because that particular content was generated when I was in the doldrums, unsure about where I was heading. Blogging helped me stay focused on the research problems I cared most about.

Zen Faulkes said...

Morgan: Even if I published this paper in a proper peer-reviewed journal, I reckon the odds of it getting cited are about the same as now: almost zero.

Research on both the neural control of locomotion and crustacean neuroscience has shrunk significantly in the last decade or so, in my estimation. Maybe this is partly due to the emphasis on the "evil four" that is bedevilling neuroethology. And yes, there are exceptions: research on the stomatogastric ganglion of crustaceans is still going strong. But there isn’t as large a research community now as there was, in my estimation, and the size of research community is a key factor that drives a lot of citations.

Balapagos: Whatever inefficiencies the system may have (and it does have them), this is a case where the author (me) has been way, way, waaaaaay more inefficient. I more of less had these data in the can by the end of 2000. So of the 12 years of delay, at least 10 of them are due to me. If not 11, or 11½.

K. Hutchings said...

I feel that when we publish something, we have a responsibility for it; not just a responsibility to our peers, who might readily see and understand any shortcomings and view the paper for what it is, but a responsibility to students and the public, who might *not* understand its shortcomings and see it for much *more* than it is.

This, I feel, is the role of peer review, and I feel it's an important role; otherwise, what's to separate the cream from the crap that might be blog-published by clever charlatans?

In a manner of speaking, it seems to me that it comes down to the basic theory and rigour of science in general; if you can't marshall enough data to convince your peers, maybe you need to accept that it's just not rigorous enough for science. We need to draw a line somewhere; this is a clear line drawn objectively (supposedly), and it is broadly accepted as the standard measure.

Zen Faulkes said...

K: I agree with you, in broad strokes. This is one reason why I am going to clearly mark this as "not peer reviewed" on my website and my CV. Peer review is often valuable, has been, and should continue to be, the gold standard. I am not interested in getting rid of peer review.

We already deal with grey literature in science, and publishing on a blog is a slightly different form of that. Maybe what we need to do is think about a “silver standard,” if you will, for grey literature.

Do you think the standard for publication be that a finding is accurate, or accurate and interesting?

I suspect some (many?) scientists would like to see the standard for disseminating information be more about accuracy and less about “significance.” Journals probably lean more towards the mix of factual accuracy and “interestingness.” Journals like stories, and so are less likely to publish:

• Negative results
• Attempts at replication
• Non-hypothesis driven findings
• Expected findings

neuromusic said...

@K Hutchings:
So the public should uncritically trust everything that has the official stamp of peer review?

There is nothing about what Zen has done here that prevents peer review. Indeed, the "comments" section of the post (and of the figures shared to FigShare) provide ample opportunity for his peers to review and critique the work. (I would encourage him to initiate this process by posting the previous reviewers comments in the comments section of the post, actually).

When we talk about peer review, I think we mean two things. Peer Review in the general sense (evaluation of the quality and rigor of scientific work by other qualified scientists) and peer review in a specific sense (an editor asks 2-3 reviewers to evaluate a paper anonymously and the paper gets placed on one side of a line: accept or reject).

The specific sense should not be what we are committed to as scientists... rather it is the general principle of being evaluated by our peers. This is what is important. The modern "standard" of peer review is a legacy of archaic publishing practices and can be changed while maintaining a commitment to the general principle of Peer Review.

Carl said...

Thanks for posting this!

I am sure almost every researcher has a similar file-drawer problem to some extent or another. That's part of the reason I keep an open lab notebook. (Not as tidy as a publication format, but at least it's all there). For instance, this whole project on stochastic fluctations in beetle populations, (from back when the notebook lived on openwetware) never saw the light, but most of those pages have been viewed hundreds of times.

I think FigShare would actually be an excellent home for this paper (despite the name, they take papers, datasets, etc. Just submit the word or pdf document, and you'd have an archival DOI).

Re: Ingelfinger rule - I think it's clear that you're posting an author's preprint, and most journals(with notable exceptions) would not consider something 'already published' if it hadn't been peer reviewed. (as PNAS eloquently states in their policy towards arXiv. Re: novelty - many fields other than physics have a preprint culture that simply takes a different form than arXiv - sharing working papers through informal channels long before, if ever, they see the light of day. See Krugman's description of how this worked in economics, before the arXiv existed.

On comments that peer review is the guardian of what is and isn't valid science: If that were true, I think we could agree that (a) valid papers would not remain unpublished on the grounds of not being of sufficient impact, and (b) most published papers would be valid [1]. If journals are more proud of being good filters of what is interesting than of what is valid [2], then most reviews are serving a different purpose than postulated above anyway.

Unknown said...

Someone on twitter (I forget now) mentioned that the article wont be able to get a DOI and therefoew may be problematic to be citable. However, maybe the story shouldnt be the thing we are citing, only the data (which through figshare is citable).

Unknown said...

I agree with neuromusic. There is so much stock in peer review, but why can't people publicly peer review in the comments? What's so special about journals that scientists can't do independently. I publish my science daily in an open notebook. Its not a complete story, but the story is told over time. What's wrong with that.

Zen you've accomplished something I've wanted to do for some time. And I'll definitely be following suit. I don't have tenure so I may be risking my career, but I think the people who take risks should be rewarded as well. You can't be a ground breaker if you don't do something new.

Al Dove said...

Fascinating stuff. When I wrote my guest post for NeuroDojo about the guilt of the unfinished manuscripts folder, this is a solution that never occurred to me. I guess that's how hard we cling to peer reviewers as the gatekeepers of scientific rigor. But as long as you clearly mark that this is not peer reviewed and is offered "as is" for discussion, it's better that the data find a home in a blog than languish in a file folder on a hard drive somewhere. I might just try it...

Zen Faulkes said...

Dave: I'm a big fan of DOIs, and would love it if there was a way to give the paper a DOI. But people routinely cite things without DOIs all the time. Some journals have even incorporated styles for referencing web pages into their instructions for references.

I got 99 problems, but no DOI is... well, it is a problem, but it's closer to problem number 99 than problem number 1.

Zen Faulkes said...

BMC Research Notes is another venue I was unaware of that is relevant here. It is for results that “do not form a sufficiently complete story to justify the publication of a full research article.”

K Hutchings said...

Zen: No, I realize that you're not anti-peer review.  But we do already have a silver standard, and here I am thinking, for example, about all those edited volumes that often come out of conference proceedings, etc.  These are not subject to the rigors of review the same way that a good peer process is, and yet we find them perfectly acceptable and "academic", as they should be.  Where I'm coming from is the perspective of critic born of being a professor who seems to have increasingly more trouble trying to help students decide what constitutes academic rigor and what may not (or does not).  I do not let my 1st and 2nd year undergraduate students employ source materials that are not "academic in nature" for their research papers, and this can be a difficult thing to define (3rd and 4th year students can cite whatever they want, but I may challenge them on the authority of their sources).  The idea is simple; I want them to be familiar with the gold and silver standards first.  The point I think, is made perfectly clear by the knee-jerk response of NEUROMUSIC, whose comment betrays a simplistic dualist understanding of the academe.  The comment suggests that embracing the peer-review process is the same thing as saying that whatever is published by the process is gospel.  Not only is the comment ridiculous and easily proven untrue (so much so that it strikes me as a troll), it belies the same lack of understanding of the general process of the advancement of science that I commonly encounter in my 1st year undergraduates.

As for grey literature, it may have a very different form in your field than mine.  In mine, it generally takes the form of field reports generated by consultants that are working towards mitigation of impact - the contribution to the overall discipline varies considerably, but the focus tends to be on the mitigation rather than anything that might be considered a gold, silver, or even pewter contribution to scientific knowledge.

I do hear you though on issues like negative results, and replication of important findings, etc.  These are the common criticisms of the gold standard peer review process, but then again, in my field, these types of papers generally find their way into the silver literature via the conference route.

Can we all be accurate and interesting?  No, probably not, but it's the same for any profession isn't it?  The best rise to the top and the rest of us struggle to keep up and keep telling ourselves that there just isn't enough room at the top and the folks up there are just elitist and the whole thing is artificial anyway.

I don't pretend to have the answers; I'm just offering feedback where feedback was requested.  The existing process isn't perfect, but nothing ever is.  The world of publishing is already very different today than when I was a student; changes in associated technology will always affect the dissemination and nature of information.  I expect that self e-publishing will become more and more common, and students (and professionals) will just have to develop a bit more savvy to deal with it.  

What I do fear though is that the work of good academics will become lost in an abyss of trash produced by a post-modernist public that believes they know more than they do and that the rest of us should listen to their opinions on any matter.  I'm reminded of something Asimov wrote back in the '80s:  "The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

If I we're to offer any advice, it would be to strive to find a way to clearly distinguish your valuable work from being overlooked in that sea of trash; at least until someone finds a way to fasten a beacon to your product such that the academe and the public can see that it is worthy of their time and consideration.

Zen Faulkes said...

K: Thank you for entering into the discussion. Much appreciated.

neuromusic said...

K: no, not trying to troll here. rather, I was criticizing what seemed to me to be a rather "simplistic dualist understanding of the academe"... in particular, your assertion that "if you can't marshall enough data to convince your peers [though the current publishing standards], maybe you need to accept that it's just not rigorous enough for science."

this assertion fails on two parts. one, is the failure to recognize that peer review as we know it (what you refer to as the "gold" standard) is a quirk of our time. this is the part that I embellished in my previous comment.

the second failure is that you also imply throughout the rest of your comment that the inverse is true...
that research that *has* been published in a peer-reviewed journal *is* "rigorous enough for science"...
that research that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal is "cream" and that which has not is "charlatanism"...
and that we should be teaching our students and the public that being published in a peer-reviewed journal is the line which separates the two

so yes, my "trolling" question was meant to emphasize these points with a sarcastic tone, criticizing what I saw as a "simplistic dualist understanding of the academe" advanced in your comment. it is indeed "so easily proven untrue" yet entirely consistent with the logic you advanced. I was willing to throw it out there because I don't think that you really think these things (because the logic is so absurd) despite the fact that you advocated for them & argued that publishing like zen has here does a disservice to the public because the "role of peer review" is to show the public the difference between the cream and the charlatanism.

and indeed, your follow-up comment betrays a more subtle perspective, which I appreciate. sorry if I came off as a "troll" in my attempt to find such subtlety.

Mike Taylor said...

Fascinating stuff. I and Matt Wedel, my co-blogger at Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week, have been talking about doing this for a long time. It's great that someone has gone ahead and actually done it.

Zen Faulkes wrote: "Whatever inefficiencies the system may have (and it does have them), this is a case where the author (me) has been way, way, waaaaaay more inefficient. I more of less had these data in the can by the end of 2000. So of the 12 years of delay, at least 10 of them are due to me. If not 11, or 11½."

That is very gracious of you to say, but the truth is that at the end of 2000, the blogging ecosystem to support your action just didn't exist. Arguably, it didn't really exist in the necessary form before a year or two ago. So the "blame" for the 11.5-year delay, if you want to assign it, really belongs to the slow pace that the world has changed. Your solution is the right one; it just wasn't really feasible until a decade had passed.

"Do you think the standard for publication be that a finding is accurate, or accurate and interesting?"

I know this was a rhetorical question, but ...

There is no way that a reviewer or a journal can determine what is interesting to me. A paper recently came out that discusses whether the spinoparapophyseal lamine in the 8th dorsal vertebra of the Giraffatitan brancai paralectotype HMN SII is actually an anterior spinodiapopheseal lamina. To me, that's interesting. To you, probably not so much. But who's to say that it should, for that reason, not be published?

K. Hutchings wrote: "Where I'm coming from is the perspective of critic born of being a professor who seems to have increasingly more trouble trying to help students decide what constitutes academic rigor and what may not (or does not)."

I do hope you're not teaching your students that what constitutes academic rigour is the "peer-reviewed" rubber-stamp.

Lou Jost said...

I discovered an interesting statistical result in the early '80s (an exact formula for combining the p-values of any number of independent experiments). I wasn't much into writing articles at the time, and so I sat on it. For two and a half decades. Along came the internet, and websites. I put it up on my website. People occasionally find it and want to use it in a paper, and they always ask me if it has been published in a journal. When I say no, they often just cite the website. I think it is a good way to get things out there into pubic view if, like me, you don't care about racking up publications.

Martin J Sallberg said...

One way to fight back against the peer review publication embargo is by using the system against itself. Since the traditional version of the peer review system denies publication to anything that has already been published elsewhere, the trick is to anticipate the next modification within a mainstream paradigm (that is, the next "normal science" modification, not the next paradigm shift) and publish it before it gets published in peer review. That mainstream theory will then be denied peer review publication! This does not require stealing any information, but can be done perfectly legally- by knowing your enemy and taking the "devil's advocate" point of view. If you can already anticipate what "modifications" will be published within a mainstream paradigm next (that is, if you have successfully predicted such "modifications" before), then just start self-publishing what you expect the mainstreamists to claim next. If you can imagine not only one but a few alternatives of such, publish them all. That is, publish those that could be expected to be modifications within a mainstream paradigm, while preferably keeping those that could constitute paradigm shifts under your hat. And self-publish it openly accessible to anyone with Internet (e.g. blogs, forums, social media, wikis and so on) to increase the likelihood that the "redundant publication" detector of the peer review system will detect it (and thus deny it peer review publication). Publication on less accessible parts of the Internet (such as ebooks or freenet) is not as efficient since it decreases the chances of detection, and physical books are even less efficient. Also, it should of course be in English. Alternative email alias and pseudonym may be used if you do not want to appear publicly as a front fighre of a mainstream paradigm. If you are not so good at predicting how the mainstream paradigms will "modify" their theories next (that is, if you either never listen to or read what the mainstreamists actually say, or are taken completely by surprise most or all times you actually do), you should read their publications to know your enemy and become better at anticipating what they may claim next. When many people do this and mainstream paradigms are thus prevented from getting their "modifications" published in any respected peer review journals, the tyranny of the peer review publication embargo will at last lose its support and be deposed.