Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Micro Papers

I've been catching up with the Talking with Talis series, and the other day I listened to the interview with Peter Murray-Rust. I found it interesting, as he talked about a lot of things that I'm already familiar with, but his perspective is completely different, as he focuses on academic papers, and started in chemistry rather than computing.

I was intrigued and pleased to hear about the greater body of research which is now being published as Open Access (personally, I rely heavily on authors doing Self Archiving). Peter also described how being in a peer reviewed journal is vital to one's academic career. More precisely, being cited in a peer review journal is important. The peer review process is significant because of the need for veracity, while citation means that your work was actually useful.

While trying to think of what makes Open Access expensive (for the publisher, who then passes this on to the author), it occurred to me that part of it is the review process. While not as reliable, it would be kind of cool to let the public review papers, and have the papers modded up and down accordingly. No one would submit themselves to such vagaries after putting in all the work that an academic paper demands, but it did get me thinking about something slightly different.

The other day I saw a comment in a blog (I thought it was Ian Davis, but I can't find it now) that hit the nail on the head for me. The writer made the comment that they had written fewer academic papers now that they blog more. This makes sense. The commitment to a blog is less, and the payoff much more immediate, but blogging cuts heavily into the time needed for formal writing. So this means that there may be a lot of people writing down a lot of stuff that could become the subject of an academic paper, if only they could get the time to sort it all out and structure it properly. Consequently a lot of very useful information may be sitting dormant in the blogosphere.

Putting it all together, I started speculating about a site for micro-papers. Kind of a cross between a site for academic papers and blogging. It would provide a forum for posting short reports, ideas, equations, observations, or anything that would be good to put into an academic paper - if only there was time for it. Each post should be tagged with the field(s) of study (I like tagging - it neatly sidesteps all those issues people had trying to figure out where something belongs in a taxonomy). Most importantly, people could rate the posts.

Ratings would be positive or negative, with negative being the one most likely applied to my own posts. Negative ratings would require a critical note (pointing out incorrect equations, unrecognized assumptions, suggestions for missed citations, etc), while a note on positive ratings could be optional. Of course, ratings would be rated too. :-)

The idea is that eventually the best micro-papers would get good rankings, and the best raters would gain in standing within the community (using some sort of scoring mechanism). I'm thinking that the role of "rating" should only be enabled for those fields the user has selected as specialties. New specialties would be allowed, but a lower standing as a rater would apply, until the user built up a reputation in that discipline as well.

The real benefit is to get good ideas out there and accessed by the community. Constructive rating by interested parties could even lead to collaborations on real-life papers.

The thing about an idea like this is that it needs people to use it. It's something that I would use, but that tells me nothing about the other 6.6 billion people out there. OK, a much smaller portion would want to write anything academic, but a small fraction of 6.6 billion is still a big number. Would any of them like to see a system like this?


Rob said...

Sounds a bit like Slashdot, but with academic text. Nice idea.

You should implement it. Maybe Google would like to buy it out one day ;-).

College Paper Writing said...

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.