Author's Note: this is quite a late response to the writing bounty prompt. I was thinking of it this weekend and not much worth sharing came to mind. Just today, that is the Monday, my frustrations from the Academy suddenly aligned on a tram journey, coffee break, and metro return ride. I am far from an expert, but I do enjoy thinking. Let me know what you think.
How to improve scientific publishing.
I have no idea. But I do know that modern publishing models have flooded us with much science and not too much literature. And this is to be the industry of Science Literature at work. Preprints have given much to the knowledge ecosystem, and ghost libraries will continue to challenge the current profit-driven characteristics of these publishers. But still, scientific publishing, the outreach arm of capital-S Science, seems to sag under its very own weight.
This weight does not need to be shouldered by the Academy alone, even if many academics believe otherwise. The occasionally-feared Public are more than capable of helping carry such burdens.
During a graduate programme studying archaeology, I would often hear many lamentations from both students and professors bemoaning the difficulties arising from misunderstandings, confusions, or poor expectations of Archaeology/History/What-Have-You. I would hear further annoyances alluding to the popularity of pop-archaeology findings or pseudoarchaeology theories being widely shared with little scepticism, if any.
I pondered, endlessly, if a major symptom of the issue was not staring the University in the face: it created very little for public consumption. Or, to put it more accurately, it made very little that the public wanted to consume.
Our networked technologies opened a floodgate regarding the potential of prosperity in the development of knowledge, scientific or otherwise. It has overwhelmed the peer-review system, still attempting to shed its bureaucratic weights and has even subjected to economic pressure the very Universities to care more for the number of references than suitability for professorship in their hiring process (the "Publish or Perish" tradition that has yet to die a graceful death). And our consumption of the same has atrophied to a similar extent. Reliance on weak algorithms and dated channels of distribution causes most of this research, if it is not already wrong, to be heard only by those who write similar ideas. An Echo Chamber, indeed.
Is it any wonder this information flood directly required the role of the "influencer"? A curator of content, a gatekeep of ideas, a trusted ambassador to the Information Superhighway. These roles have been neglected, to be sure, but why do researchers struggle to not shy away from the new, needed, labour?
When the news has a question about Climate Change, why is it more likely an economist, activist, or politician is likely to appear on the screens, rather than anthropologists, geologies, or glaciologists? When agricultural matters are up for discussion, why do NGOs get ahead of the narrative before ecologists themselves? I matriculated into my University under the guise that it was to be a public service to be crafted into a Scholar. In an era of radical publicization of the means of communication, it is odd to notice little University service to be found.
I do not know how to go about morphing the incentive structure of our communication apparatuses or attention spans. Our level of discourse seems fractured enough to be just out of reach of classification and diagnosis. I do know, however, that we can all produce literature, the scientists included. Every word, academic or otherwise, can be worth reading, and dare I say entertaining as well if done with care. If the bookshelves were filled with books written from a place of passion not popularity, if academic articles were written with a healthy appetite for prose. If the poetry of math were employed to solve our current crises, we would all start to benefit from Science as a whole. Heck, we may even become the scientists ourselves.
What a dream. That said, on a metro ride back home from the city today, I observed a brightly-coloured, loud post advert for this year's 15th Congress of the European Society of Gynecology, coming to Amsterdam the 29th November - 2nd December 2023, and, though this is science coming straight to my front door, I am suddenly I am doubtful of the benefits we can hope to see from this iteration of public engagement.
Perhaps it is back to the drawing board. And there is nothing more scientific than admitting defeat.