Research is most impactful when others can see and build on it. Originally, the role of scientific journals was to enable this by printing and distributing findings. In today’s system, with the ability to rapidly share information on the internet, we now rely on them for basic integrity checks and typesetting, organizing peer review, curating the literature, and signaling quality to readers. These new functions have generated a number of issues. The process can be painfully slow, inefficient, expensive, and political. Papers must generally tell a story that reviewers deem “complete,” “important,” and “novel,” requiring dozens of experiments and heaps of data. Peer review often improves the quality of papers, but given its largely non-transparent nature, can provide an appearance of rigor rather than the substance of it. The structure of publications is rigid and they are evaluated at a single point in time. The prose is laden with jargon, complete data often only “shared upon request,” and the information needed to reproduce work is often missing. Paywalls hinder access, especially by the public, journalists, and scientists at institutions that lack funding.
Posting papers to preprint servers solves many of these problems by making work available earlier and without a paywall, but we’d like to use this opportunity to push further and explore different structures, displays, and feedback mechanisms. By pushing beyond preprints, we also won’t have the authorship constraints of a typical journal article, and don’t have to be interoperable with the journal system in general.
Making meaningful change in the pre-existing publishing structure takes a huge amount of inertia and there are likely levers we just wouldn’t be able to pull. In current conversations about the publishing system, many feel a sense of duty to innovate only in ways that the majority of scientists will tolerate. However, sometimes we need to see something completely different in order to start imagining all the new possibilities that could take hold. Arcadia, which is untethered from the academic system, is in a unique position to leverage the science in-house to demonstrate what is possible. We therefore have an unparalleled opportunity to reset, learn from innovations already happening in the open science community, and construct something radically new.
We are conceptualizing our publishing efforts as an “experiment” that will involve ideation, testing, analysis, and adjustments based on initial results. By repeating the process, we can iteratively improve our model. Critically, we are doing this iteration closely with our in-house scientists, striving to design a new system that achieves our high-level goals and meets the practical requirements for the researchers themselves. We want them to feel a strong sense of agency, and have the ability to discuss their work on their own terms, avoiding new obstructions to sharing. Our scientists will learn how to drive scientific dialogue on their own, a skill that will serve them throughout their careers. Further, we are sharing our plans, progress, and results here so others can weigh in and learn from our work, just as we hope will happen for our scientific research.
After assessing the key limitations of the current system, we’ve pinpointed three key qualities to maximize in our publishing strategy:
Speed. Sharing smaller, more modular pieces of research as we go will let people learn about and use our findings quicker and will speed scientific progress as a whole.
Utility. By breaking from rigid journal formatting, we can maximize usability and explore interactivity. Our data will be easy to find, access, use, and repurpose in ways we can’t predict.
Rigor. We need public comments from anyone. Expertise lives everywhere, not just where you look for it. With diverse feedback and iterative engagement, our work will be the best it can be and we can meet community needs.
Since Arcadia’s researchers are already starting to make progress and we want to share ideas as early as possible, we’ve decided to use a pre-existing platform to host our first research products. We chose the platform you’re on now — PubPub!
With the help of the PubPub team, the design firm And—Now, Mert Celebi, and everyone at Arcadia, we’ve been able to quickly develop this site enough to share it with you now. We couldn’t wait to start releasing our research and start the testing phase of our publishing experiment!
For an overview of why we chose this platform and how we’ve set things up in this first iteration, check out our intro piece and provide your input:
You tell us! Beyond smaller issues that we’re troubleshooting, we’d like to add the ability to expand certain sections to see more detail, share executable code directly within pubs, improve the usability of the table of contents, and make contributor ORCID iDs easily viewable. We describe some of this in our first pub, and we hope you’ll add your thoughts there too. Longer-term, we’d like to do much more, with key goals being to enhance discoverability, facilitate other groups using the platform and sharing more openly, improving the effectiveness of our communication via interactivity and creative information design, and improving the quality and reliability of our work by trying out different mechanisms for community-wide peer review.