Should I write a formal peer reviewed article on the plant-ddw experiments?

I guess the real question is: Should I submit a paper for peer review? I’m 100% going to write up the findings of these experiments and I’ll write it in the open, but should I submit the paper to an open access publication like PLoS for peer review?

Personally I could go either way. I know that it is useful for my career because current measures heavily favor peer review publications. And I know that it would benefit Koch in his career, but he has given me the freedom to choose what we do with these studies.

And honestly I don’t care about how the current system rewards peer reviewed publications. If this was the year 2030 I could probably just leave a copy of the paper here in my notebook and submit it to Google Scholar search results (which I should make a short post about). At that time (hopefully) the scientific community won’t be afraid to openly critique a publication, but now there is some kind of invisible barrier that prevents this kind of interaction.

If I did this now it wouldn’t be peer reviewed by anonymous reviewers, but I could say send it out to various colleagues and have them review and comment and self publish the comments.

I actually would like to do it this way. I think it would be a worthwhile experiment in open science publication. I’m not afraid of the criticism that I may receive from peers. I’m also not afraid of the impact it could have on my career, if indeed this is not well received. Eventually someone is going to have to make a bold leap, why can’t it be now, and why shouldn’t I make that leap?

On the other side of the coin, I’m not afraid of the current model either. I’m not opposed to publishing in an open access journal like PLoSOne, but I don’t see the value in a closed access journal. With an open access journal I would receive the benefits of open access and the benefits of peer review, the best of both worlds, so why shouldn’t I publish this way? I would get the career benefit that everyone expects to see on your resume and the joy of having shared my knowledge openly with all the world.

So then why do I feel inclined to go against the grain? Why do I feel like it would be a worthwhile risk to publish in an unorthodox way?

Am I crazy?


  • Bill Hooker

    I don’t think you’re crazy but you may be simply rebelling for the sake of rebelling a bit.  The existing system surely has much that invites rebellion!  For myself, though, I don’t see why you cannot have your cake and eat it: self-publish in an open notebook and accompanying blog, including all the informal reviewing you want, and also at some point write up the story for publication in a more mainstream location.  (Of course I quite agree about only submitting to OA journals.  If you cannot pay the PLoS fee or get a waiver, there are plenty of cheaper and free-of-charge options.)  

    As you say, it will be decades before there is no difference in audience between your open notebook and PubMed.  By publishing in both places, you help to bring alternative publication methods to the attention of journal readers.  By refusing to so publish, you may feel good about making a principled point, but you risk being largely overlooked for little gain (in my opinion).

    Perhaps, though, I am simply showing my inability to discard the filters which a couple decade’s worth of immersion in the existing system have stuck over my worldview.  Open Foo was not even on my radar when I was at your career stage (though forward thinking types were talking about it, I was not in a position to hear them), so you surely see the scientific landscape in a different way than I do.  If you see value in refusing to engage at all with the (open portion of the) existing system, perhaps there is value there that I cannot see.  I do think you should be able to articulate what that value is, though, before you decide. 

    And of course it’s not all-or-nothing.  Whatever you do with this study, you can do something different with the next.  

    • Anthony Salvagno

      Well I do want to rebel for the sake of rebelling, but I think there is some merit in not going the peer review route. And I do like cake and eating it! I do think that it would be worth going the more conventional route this time and experimenting for the next set of experiments.

      But as far as a relevance standpoint, how do people typically come across papers? For me it is always through search and I almost never see the latest and greatest paper. I assume that by publishing, in say PLoS, I would have to do a whole bunch of self promotion, which I would end up doing if I self published the paper without going open notebook?

      As a separate thought, you think people would buy journal articles for say $0.50 apiece if you went the unconventional way and published in Amazon or iTunes? Is that even possible?

      • Bill Hooker

        “How do people typically come across papers” is an excellent question, and much bigger than it appears; ask pretty much any librarian and you will get an earful of research you didn’t even know existed!  

        I typically won’t see a paper if it’s not in PubMed or Google Scholar, unless someone (or some reference I find in my usual databases) points me to it.  If you want visibility beyond “turning up in people’s usual search routines” you will have to self-promote, I think.  I’m not sure quite what you mean by self-promotion, or what you are looking to get from same, or how much time you think it would be worth putting into it.  The few people now doing ONS seem (to me) to find that being indexed by Google brings them collaborators without the need for much more “marketing” than simply writing up their work and perhaps blogging about the “chattier” and more speculative aspects.

        I guess you could publish on Amazon or iTunes, or if not there exactly then on some similar platform, but I think I am missing the point: why put your work behind a paywall?  
        Granted, I would much rather pay $0.1-0.5 per paper to you than $20-50 to a publishing house, but only if I already know you’re not a crank.  That’s where peer review (and various alternatives to same) come in, so until we reach the post-Elsevier world in which reliable mechanisms exist for “scoring” individual papers (post-pub review, F1000, reviewer reputation systems, etc etc) I don’t really see a market for micropayment access to individual papers.  But that’s just one view and it’s an interesting question.

    • Anthony Salvagno

      Oh and I did discover that you could technically self publish and end up on Google Scholar. If your paper meets a few easy-to-meet criteria then you could end up in search results there. I’m very intrigued by this possibility and I think it is definitely worth attempting. And I say that with complete intention to do so myself.

      Check out this:
      and this: