Michael Eisen, one of the founders of the Public Library of Science, has thought a lot about how to make the system of scientific publishing better. He has posted the text of a presentation he recently gave, which explains many of the current problems with access and curation: “The Past, Present and Future of Scholarly Publishing”. In this passage, he suggests a different system that would obviate the problems finding appropriate research among the 10,000 different journals of the current publishing environment:
So what would be better? The outlines of an ideal system are simple to spell out. There should be no journal hierarchy, only broad journals like PLOS ONE. When papers are submitted to these journals, they should be immediately made available for free online clearly marked to indicate that they have not yet been reviewed, but there to be used by people in the field capable of deciding on their own if the work is sound and important.
The journal would then organize a different type of peer review, in which experts in the field were asked if the paper is technically sound as we currently do at PLOS ONE but also what kinds of scientists would find this paper interesting, and how important should it be to them. This assessment would then be attached to the paper there for everyone to see and use as they saw fit, whether it be to find papers, assess the contributions of the authors, or whatever.
This simple process would capture all of the value in the current peer review system while shedding most of its flaws. It would get papers out fast to people most able to build on them, but would provide everyone else with a way to know which papers are relevant to them and a guide to their quality and import.
So far, this kind of value-added curation is not happening very much with PLoS ONE. I’m an associate editor and I still can’t keep track of all the research in the journal relevant to me. But even though I have access to many paywall journals through my university library, I still love the ease of just clicking on a link to a PLoS article. It just works, no library proxy, no password, just text. Creative Commons text and graphics, that I can freely comment and reuse. The way science should be.