Idea #2: End the scientific journal stranglehold

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Our guest: Mark Johnson, the marketing director at PLOS – the Public Library of Science.

The forward progress of science depends on talented people all over the world following the evidence wherever it leads, but nearly as important is the ability of those people to keep tabs on what everyone else is doing. If all those brilliant scientists are going to avoid duplicating someone else’s efforts or actually attempt to build off one another’s work, they’re going to need to stay in close touch.

Besides conferences and water cooler chats, the main venue for all that back-and-forth chatter is is the scientific journal, and here we find a publishing business model that would make Tom Sawyer blush. Scientists, often research professors who draw paychecks on state government treasuries, pay various publication fees to the journal, which in turn arranges for an elaborate peer review process that other scientists, often likewise publically-funded, perform for free. Written science product in hand, the journals hit print and sell it back to those public institutions – usually university libraries – often for thousands of dollars per subscription. And if your library doesn’t have a subscription, not to worry: You too can get online and personally shell out for reports detailing the work you already paid to have done.

But a growing movement called open access publishing is trying to bring some sanity to the process of scientific communication. The model works like this: Authors pay one relatively modest fee to the journal, which organizes a peer review. If a paper passes muster, it gets published online for everyone to see, sans paywall.

Removing the crazy expensive gatekeepers of scientific communication so we can all read about what we’ve probably paid for. It’s today’s idea so crazy it just might work.

MANY THANKS TO: David Knutson, of PLOS, for arranging the interview.

This week’s classified ad: 

FROM KEVIN IN CRESCENT CITY, CALIFORNIA: Sure I love the taste of home cooking and the warm fuzzies I get when hanging out in my own kitchen. And of course I’m rarely able to blow entire afternoons on gourmet dishes. But fellow Americans, mortgaging your house to pay for meal delivery services with pre-portioned ingredients is not what we need. It’s all based on this dumb idea that if you don’t have time to make braised lamb with cashew couscous and purple baby carrots that somehow you’re going to be stuck eating pop tarts and movie theater popcorn for dinner. Just make yourself a nice salad or a sandwich and you’ll be fine. Soup is pretty easy as well. Most vegetables are great sauteed with a little salt and butter and lemon juice. The food delivery industry makes cooking out to be rocket science, but it’s just basically the creative application of heat to starches and proteins, and I promise you can handle the basics and laugh all the way to the bank while you do it.

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Licensing info: “Electric Jingle” by jobro is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0. “Whoosh” by ztrees1 is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

 

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