I was reading a fascinating article about the whole industry of scientific journal publishing. Apparently it is quite lucrative for everyone except the researchers who do the actual work. The paper is worth a read and can be found here. In fact, I would humbly suggest that you take the time to read the article in order to appreciate my comments below.

Personally, I would eliminate the money element that is a huge factor in the academic publishing business. Once you eliminate the money, the people who will still hang around will be those who truly want to see proper academic research flourish.

Today, when someone has a paper to publish, they submit it (often online) after filling out a long questionnaire. Then, the waiting begins. And this waiting time can be months to years. And there is no guarantee that the paper will be published. It does make one wonder how so many journals fill their pages when it is so hard for an individual researcher to get published. But let us put that aside for now.

In my new system, when someone has a paper to publish, they upload it to a site called “allresearchpapers.com”. And the moment it is uploaded, it is online. In many ways, this would be just like a blog, but with a much more specific and much higher quality of content.

After uploading, there is an automated analysis of the text to make sure that it has not used inappropriate language or is plagiarized or is missing basic components (like a list of references). At this point, each uploaded paper is posted, added to the table of contents of the site, and is provided with a comment section at the bottom, where a reviewer can comment on the paper and give it a score.

The reviewer is fully identified. When the reviewer signs up, he or she effectively submits their CV, so that you can see who the reviewer is (and not just trust the journal blindly). So if the reviewer is known to be a competitor on the same topic, the author of this paper will be able to submit a challenge with a full explanation to the editing team of the web site. If the complaint is found to be legitimate, that reviewer will be banned from the web site and his comments expunged.

After a period of time, the scores of all of the reviews for this paper are averaged and that is the final score displayed. Further reviews can modify this score, but the initial score will already appear and be searchable (i.e. show me all papers dealing with breast cancer that had a review score of 4.0/5 or greater). Over time, and as more and more papers get published, you will be able to speak of the average score of a particular researcher (assuming he or she has uploaded multiple articles).

What of spam scores ? What of someone who writes. “I hate the font” and gives it a 1 out of 10. First of all, during the registration process, the person must specify (via their CV) their previous academic background. So hopefully, this will leave out non-academic spammers. Also, over time, a list of phrases that represent spam can be identified by software and the entire submission removed. Using regular expressions to look for rude or even swear words would eliminate other inappropriate comments. Finally, when averaging the scores, the top 5% and bottom 5% of scores would be eliminated. So, someone who reverse spams (gives 10/10 to every paper by a given author) will also be eliminated.

The key to all of this, is that publishing would no longer be a binary process (yes I got published or no I did not). Everyone could publish on allresearchpapers.com and the reviewers, who ideally would reach 1000’s in number over time, would give the papers a truthful score, that would help the public identify the papers of most interest.

All data from the research would have to be submitted as well, in a separate file. It could be a zipped file of all of the excel spreadsheets used. If the data is terabytes in size, then this would have to be solved.

How would the website make money? A commercial interest in microbiology might subscribe to allresearchpapers.com to see any paper that had more than 100 reviews and scored more than 4/5. You could charge a fee to see the actual attached data from the paper. And possibly, you could charge a reasonable fee (50 dollars?) to anyone who submits a paper. This would have the benefit of keeping spammers away. Admittedly, there would not be a lot of money in this, and the initial financial support would need to come from a body like the NIH.

I think this could work and more so, could be game changing. What do you think ?

Thanks for listening