More Lockdown Perspectives on the Hubble Tension and thoughts on the future of scientific publications

This is interesting. Remember last week when I posted about a paper by George Efstathiou on the Hubble Constant controversy. This is the abstract.

Well, a new version of the paper has just appeared on the arXiv that includes some comments in response from the SH0ES team.

It is of course interesting in itself to see the cut and thrust of scientific debate on a live topic such as this, but in my mind at least it raises interesting questions about the nature of scientific publication. To repeat something I wrote a a while ago, it seems  to me that the scientific paper published in an academic journal is an anachronism. Digital technology enables us to communicate ideas far more rapidly than in the past and allows much greater levels of interaction between researchers. I agree with Daniel Shanahan that the future for many fields will be defined not in terms of “papers” which purport to represent “final” research outcomes, but by living documents continuously updated in response to open scrutiny by the research community.

The Open Journal of Astrophysics is innovative in some ways but remains wedded to the paper as its fundamental object, and the platform is not able to facilitate interaction with readers. Of course one of the worries is that the comment facilities on many websites tend to get clogged up with mindless abuse, but I think that is manageable. I have some ideas on this, but for the time being I’m afraid all my energies are taken up with other things so this is for the future.

I’ve long argued that the modern academic publishing industry is not facilitating but hindering the communication of research. The arXiv has already made academic journals virtually redundant in many of branches of  physics and astronomy; other disciplines will inevitably follow. The age of the academic journal is drawing to a close, and it is consequently time to rethink the concept of a paper.

7 Responses to “More Lockdown Perspectives on the Hubble Tension and thoughts on the future of scientific publications”

  1. John Peacock Says:

    This is beautifully old-fashioned. Once upon a time conferences published proceedings, and the discussion after each presentation was written down and printed. In recent years, with electronic “proceedings” we’ve lost this, and it’s nice to see it back.

  2. Phillip Helbig Says:

    Just last night, I heard a radio (or should I say “wireless”; I’m so old-fashioned) programme about CDs and other forms of music distribution; there are many parallels to the paper-vs.-online-comments debate. (By the way, CDs are now old-school!)

    The main problem I see at the moment is that arXiv has become the de-facto distribution medium for a large part of the astronomical community (and other communities), but essentially does what it wants without any control by that community. Appeals processes, such as they are, are entirely within arXiv, and, as indicated by the “rabble” in the name of the email distribution list, the staff is not always friendly or helpful (contrast that with the very fine folks at ADS).

    As a result, I’ve decided not to put anything on arXiv until their policies change—not because I expect that that will influence arXiv (they probably won’t even notice), but simply because I have better things to do with my time. (Fortunately, I am in a position to be able to do so; others in a similar situation would be adversely affected.)

    Yes, not everyone has had a bad experience with arXiv. But being oblivious to the problem reminds me of some people who say that they didn’t notice any discrimination when growing up in pre-civil-rights Alabama. Those who think that everything worth reading is at arXiv aren’t in a position to make that claim if they don’t read anything that is not at arXiv.

    Many might not realize it, but acceptance by a respected journal does not guarantee that the paper can appear in the appropriate category (usually astro-ph for astronomy stuff) at arXiv. The arXiv staff (some of whom might be artificial intelligences) can and does reclassifiy papers. (Interestingly, in contrast to many (most?, all?) other fields, not only are the astro-ph moderators anonymous, but also the corresponding committee.) When that happens, unless one violates the arXiv rules, the paper will appear in the wrong category. There isn’t even an automatic email sent when a paper is reclassified. Even if it is reclassified to the appropriate category later, as far as I know it won’t appear in the announcement, which is the main reason (at least for me) to have put stuff on arXiv in the past. (I would still like to do so, but on balance it is more trouble than it is worth.)

    That means that open-access policies which require papers to be on arXiv are based on an assumption which is fallacious. It also means that people who have good reason not to put stuff on arXiv before acceptance will be excluded (or exclude themselves, depending on whose point of view is more cynical) from arXiv-overlay journals, at least if they don’t want to run the risk that an accepted paper doesn’t appear in the appropriate category at arXiv.
    (Even worse ist the situation for those who would like to use something like https://scipost.org/ since that platform uses arXiv replacements for successive versions even before acceptance.)

    There once was an emperor who thought that he had really magnificent new clothes.

  3. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “Of course one of the worries is that the comment facilities on many websites tend to get clogged up with mindless abuse”

    I suppose that it is only a matter of time before selection committees review CVs (which might then be part fo the FaceBook profile or whatever) and hire people based on the number of “like”s. 😐

  4. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “The arXiv has already made academic journals virtually redundant in many of branches of physics and astronomy”

    The only reason that most of the stuff on arXiv is of reasonable quality is because it is also published in traditional journals. As such, they remain useful and necessary and important. If you want to see what a free-for-all is like, check out viXra. By its own admission, arXiv doesn’t have anywhere near the resources to do something even similar to refereeing, even if it wanted to.

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