Sunday, February 22, 2009

Scaling up intellectual authority

Irrational Exuberance 1.0: [...] At least the Times is using the right word these days -- open -- but not in the way that matters. They're willing to give away what we, in tech, have been giving away for a decade. Obviously that's not a disrupter. They need to give away what they have -- authority. The trick is to find a way to give it away without destroying it. If they can do it, then we will have cracked the nut, scale, massively more news, deeper coverage, and with it -- shifted economics. (Via Scripting News.)

What Dave Winer says here about the news applies as well to scientific publishing. The arguments about open access and about review quality are but a sideline to a much more fundamental one: how to create sustainable mechanisms that will increasingly open up the process of writing up new ideas, reviewing them, and publicly building a consensus for or against their scientific soundness and importance.

The major scientific publishers control jealously their authority-conferring machinery, which is what yields citations and thus rankings in the Science Citation Index, which has a disproportionate impact on academic funding and promotion decisions. In the meanwhile, they fight a FUD and lobbying war against open access efforts. But they have a point. The current mechanism, however flawed, was for a while self-sustaining and in fact able to generate substantial profits for its managers from commercial publishers and professional societies to editors. We do not have yet proven open and scalable models that likely to survive indefinitely without special intervention, not for scientific publishing and not for news. But there are some ideas.

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