Publishing in Scientific Journals Is Obsolete

Let me start with some links that prompted a coalescing of thoughts that had brewed for a long time.  First up we have a study showing how everything causes cancer.  Then we have an editorial on replication of findings in science.

Now, as a physicist, I avoid a lot of the problems common in social sciences and biology.  Because we have math and models we are either guided to our result by theory or if something surprising happens we have to justify it theoretically as well.  This means that in most cases you might question the power of published experimental results but not as often their veracity.  To take a specific example from my field, it’s questionable whether a published paper actually did a quantum gate as well as they said, but nobody doubts that their procedure would in fact apply a quantum gate.

That said, I understand the frustration regarding how hard it is to replicate things.  Published papers focus so much on their results that they mostly ignore how they managed to achieve them.  Yet, the technical knowledge is often the most important part.  Again as an example from my field, if you read the original paper on how to lock the frequency of a laser diode, you would have a hard time actual constructing a working prototype.  In fact, the most valuable part of graduate school is acquiring all the technical knowledge that is written down nowhere.  Instead, it is passed down orally from postdoc to graduate student for time immemorial.

Why is their no repository for circuit diagrams of a laser lockbox or a feedback circuit?  How come code is not always posted for scrutiny and/or further use?  There is nominally a culture of open discussion and sharing among scientists and yet we make every group reinvent the wheel.  When scientists do reveal their code it can have huge ramifications.  Cowan was a well-regarded atomic theorist and he released his code for atomic calculations.  Decades later it still lives on, probably used by thousands of physicists at this point.

Yes, smart people can replicate your techniques given time, but that is time better spent on pushing the forefront of science.

Now, a lot of this comes from the limited space in journals.  But we have a thing called the internet now which has essentially infinite space.  Thus, the next topic I want to cover is how to get scientific publishing out of the vampiric jaws of the journal publishers.  How a bunch of private corporations became able to profit mightily off the hard work of scientists often funded by the public I will never know.  It seems antithetical to the entire scientific endeavor.

Instead the idea that has been taking shape in my head for a few years is similar to this.  Most fields already have methods for distributing pre-prints of scientific papers; for instance, physics has Arxiv.  We just need to expand these websites to verify authors and commentators like Twitter does and then allow discussions about papers posted on the website.  In fact, I thought this was a feature of Arxiv for the longest time just because it seemed so obvious.  After all, you would think you would want commentary before a paper is published.  The next step is to allow people to vouch for the veracity of a paper; thus the importance of verifying contributors to the website.  Not only is this far faster than the current system, but I guarantee that it has spillover creative benefits too.  Talking to other people about physics is always a wellspring of ideas and giving a visible forum where authors must respond quickly to questions and criticism just encourages even more profitable interaction.

You may be skeptical whether this will work.  However, the people currently refereeing will still be reading the pre-prints.  Furthermore, we have enlisted the services of many more people, including grad students and postdocs.  I foresee a future where your contributions to online refereeing are just as important as your papers when looking for a job.  If that is the case, then you can bet specialists will set aside time to critique papers.

I guarantee that traditional scientific publishing is dying and the some kind of crowd-sourced refereeing is the future and it will be a vast and open improvement.

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CTC

CTC stands for Cinammon Toast Crunch, the undisputed champion of all cereals.  Just ask the internet where every serious commentator on cold cereal similarly heralds it as the standard by which all other cereals are judged.

Now despite a childhood replete with CTC I don’t eat cold cereal much now since it is just carbs covered in more sugary carbs and thus not exactly a part of a healthy diet.  However, my wife bought a box of Blueberry Morning recently and then I discovered Cereal Eats which revealed an amazing amount of cereal innovation.  These two things led me to start trying all the new flavors coming out and I am glad I did.

My Top 5 cereals are:

  1. CTC
  2. Blueberry Morning
  3. Honey Bunches of Oats (I like cinnamon and chocolate, but haven’t had a bad one)
  4. Reese’s Puffs
  5. Honey Smacks

However, I think I must amend it after trying Chocolate Toast Crunch.  This surprises me as all other attempts at new Toast Crunch (Peanut Butter, Frosted, French) have disappointed.  Chocolate Toast Crunch is a more than worthy addition.  The chocolate is a step above what you usually get in a cereal.  It doesn’t bleed into the milk either so it stays flavorful (this might be a negative for some that like chocolate cereal milk).  Then you get a faint taste of cinnamon to finish it off.  Combining chocolate and cinnamon is a bold move for a cereal, a flavor combination you might see at a nice restaurant and they totally nail it.  I love the texture as well, a bit more rigid than the cinnamon variety which gets soggy (but no less delicious) very quickly.

In fact, it is so good that I am thinking it might be the new CTC, committing a delicious chocolate regicide.  I would need a side by side comparison.  Maybe my list will just be CTC first and second so I don’t have to decide.

Other cereals I tried recently include:

Chocolate Fiber One – Solid health food chocolate cereal.  Puffed square are a very nice texture and the chocolate is pretty good too though not Cocoa Puffs good.

Mini Cinnamon Churros – Crunchier than CTC and with a less sugary, spicier cinnamon flavor.  Very good.

Rice Krispie Treats Cereal – Internet raves about this cereal and there is definitely something delectable in the marshmallow taste.  Thankfully, the taste is not the artificial flavoring of the commercial Rice Krispie Treats but a very light and authentic marshmallow flavor.  However, I am not sure that it would crack my top 5, but if I ate more cereal it would crack the rotation if only for the novelty since nothing else tastes the same at all.