Getting Rid of Scientific Papers

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Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Back in my former life as a scientist (or a wannabe one, anyway), writing a paper was genuinely considered one of the highest aspirations. If you could get published in a very well-known journal, well, then, your career was essentially made.

Never mind that people constantly picked holes in each other’s findings, sometimes dismissing them out of hand without explanation, perhaps purely on personal distaste for the author once met at a conference. The opposite was also true: a paper by a trusted colleague was to be likewise trusted. Of course, data was still checked, papers picked apart graph by graph, table by table, data point by data point.

We lamented that the data we had was not publishable. Why? Because it was what is known as "negative data," that is, a result that shows not what is true, but what is NOT true. If your question is "what makes the sky blue?" then of course, "not orange juice," is not really interesting. But maybe the answer "not the ocean," (in this hypothetical example) is really important to know. That is not usually published. Instead, the threshold for a paper is to say, precisely, what DOES make the sky blue, and not all the things that don’t.

But should we overhaul or get rid of the scientific paper altogether? Does it make sense in a world of instant communication, where negative data can just go out there, freely shared, so that we can build on each other’s work without the fierce competition and infighting that exist.

Instead, can we find a way to share information that is open-hearted, community-minded, and for the betterment of all? What would it take to create such a scientific method?

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/apr/11/the-big-idea-should-we-get-rid-of-the-scientific-paper

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