Michael Nielsen has written a thoughtful essay over on his blog asking why scientists have been so slow to pick up on new web 2.0 technologies (found via Bora’s blog). It’s good to see that many of his conclusions echo my own (here too), that the big problems are a lack of time and incentive. He offers some potential solutions, and reasons why people should be using these new tools. A few responses, as always attempting to cut through the evangelism, cross-posted over in his comments thread:
I love it when David has a lot of links and comments. Always a great conversation.
On Wikipedia–Neilsen comments that the reason more scientists aren’t writing Wikipedia articles is, “that contributing to Wikipedia isn’t really science.” In some ways he’s right–being part of an anonymously authored group-posting isn’t something you’re likely to get career credit for. But there are other reasons as well, as anyone who has tried to contribute to Wikipedia can tell you, number one being the near impenetrable web of rules surrounding participation, and the overly zealous guardians of those rules. From my own experience, when trying to add a few facts or correct a few errors in a Wiki entry, every single attempt I made was immediately deleted, citing some obscure and inscrutable rule. Rather than try to challenge the gatekeepers, I simply gave up on trying to help out. As pointed out elsewhere, experts are not welcome on Wikipedia (noted here too), and scientists are likely to be experts in the field in which they’re writing. So, not only is there no incentive, they’re also likely to run into hostile opposition to their participation.
So, how does anyone on Wikipedia know you are an expert? I mean, everyone can edit, so, how do the Wikipedia police know I am an expert so they can be anti-me? In my experience, it is because someone says “I’m an expert. I’m right.” It usually devolves down to this. It is an appeal to authority and is a logical fallacy. WRITING that you are an expert has no validity on Wikipedia. Why even bring it up?
More and more, entries on wikipedia only have real standing if they link to facts at other sites. Simply stating a fact without outside documentation will not usually fly. This actually plays towards the expert because they can find these facts faster to bolster their argument.
As an aside, I wanted to mention the irony of the links David uses. Now, if we are discussing Wikipedia errors and believing material found on the Web, then why should we simply believe what these articles say? It turns out that some of the facts given, particularly in the second link, may not be correct. How did I find out? I went to the Wikipedia article it mentions and read the discussion.
It actually brings up the questions about the obituary that Jason scott raised. Several people then investigate this and find the original link that was used in the original article. They note that there was a transcription error but also note that the age of death is actually correct.
So, errors infiltrate any encyclopedia. But Wikipedia is able to have open discussion and to use outside facts to correct them.
But the original point is still true. no scientists is going to write a Wikipedia article to enhance their reputation. It is not the purpose of the site. But, if I was doing some really important, high power research, I might want to make sure the Wikipedia article on my subject existed and that ant facts it contained were bolstered with real links to the relevant facts.
Because you can bet anyone who wants to check me out and my field of study will also check that article.
On the OA movement–yes, they’ve certainly made great strides and are having a strong influence on the culture of science. That said, as recent reports point out, the economics of the OA movement have so far failed to show that they can be sustainable across a wide variety of publications. We may just be in early times of a long term movement, but I’d be hesitant to throw out the system we currently have for an unproven one.
It took 30-40 years before scientific publishing as we know it to develop a strong enough business model to be profitable. I expect OA will take some time also. Also, I do not think it is an either-or sort of thing. There will always be a need for heavily vetted, highly impactful general sorts of journals, like Science or Nature. But their business model relies on a mixture of ads and subscriptions that few other journals can match.
Other models will work also but there are a huge number of scientific journals that simply serve as places for researchers to publish. There is a reason they do not have the impact of other journals. I expect that these will be very susceptible to OA. Frankly, OS has shaken up a mostly moribund industry in very positive ways. It has resulted in Nature Publishing and others to really examine novel routes to disseminate their publications. Even Elsevier is having to adapt.
So much more from David. I’ll get to them later.