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Web of Trust For Scientific Publications 125

An anonymous reader writes "PGP and GnuPG have been utilizing webs of trust to establish authenticity without a centralized certificate authority for a while. Now, a new tool seeks to extend the concept to include scientific publications. The idea is that researchers can review and sign each others' works with varying levels of endorsement, and display the signed reviews with their vitas. This creates a decentralized social network linking researchers, papers, and reviews that, in theory, represents the scientific community. It meshes seamlessly with traditional publication venues. One can publish a paper with an established journal, and still try to get more out of the paper by asking colleagues to review the work. The hope is that this will eventually provide an alternative method for researchers to establish credibility."
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Web of Trust For Scientific Publications

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  • Wikipedia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jgtg32a ( 1173373 ) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @06:14PM (#26730405)
    This is exactly what Wikipedia needs to implement.

    This will allow it to overcome the credibility problems that it has.
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @06:24PM (#26730501)

    The hash isn't necessary. If the trust relationship between two academic peers includes "worried about him modify the paper after I review it", there is no trust relationship.

    In fact, the whole thing isn't necessary. Pubmed, anyone? All someone has to do is pick up the phone and call the reference on a CV and say, "So, what did you think of Dr. X's work on Y?", and they learn more than they will running a program that says "Hashes verified."

    This system is also never going to fly with researchers. Most (but not all) of the (brilliant) bio people I've worked with are completely helpless when it comes to technical stuff. Even some of the bioinformatics people who can write amazing algorithms aren't clued in on stuff outside of their field.

  • by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @06:34PM (#26730613)

    Much like Page Rank, you don't need a "known good". Start with everyone on even footing, passing their value on to those they sign, receiving value from those who sign them, and then iterate until it reaches a reasonably steady state.

    I don't recall if there is a general "scientist" number, like there is Erdos for mathematicians, but in the off chance a crackpot network was to form and become larger than any of the networks of actual scientists, then you might want a "known good", but it wouldn't matter who in the network was it, as long as there was connectivity.

    If it is the case that biologist or material engineers, etc, don't co-publish as often as mathematicians or have smaller network densities, then you are screwed without an oracle that could distinguish good scientists from bad, as the need for "known goods" would increase rapidly as connectivity decreased.

  • Endorsements stink. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @06:49PM (#26730745)

    Everyone loves you, but then some nut wants to climb the ladder. They rake through your relationships looking for pot-smokers and communists. Suddenly you lose your security clearance to the knowledge in your head about to how to make the atomic bomb that you developed.

  • Re:Very poor idea (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @06:54PM (#26730789)

    They are anonymous--the same way student reviews of a professor in a class with 5 students are anonymous. By the time you're doing anything original, innovative, and remotely interesting in a field, you're going to have 20 peers tops--very likely only 5 or so. Some of your reviewers will be unrelated and able to check basic mathematics for correctness but not much more.

    Honestly, I think I haven't yet seen someone receive comments back where they couldn't take a good guess at who the originator was...

  • by orclevegam ( 940336 ) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @06:54PM (#26730793) Journal
    That's true, and would be an interesting use of the data, but you have to consider the primary application this would be applied to. Something like this holds little value for someone in the same field who travels in the same circles as they're already aware of the reputations and merit of other researchers in their field of study, or baring a recommendation from someone they know, they should be capable of reviewing the paper for themselves and deciding if it has merit. Where this does provide insight is to the outside observer who may not know who the crackpots are, who can be trusted, and who lacks the detailed knowledge of that field to be able to evaluate the merit of a paper. In this later case there must be certain organizations or individuals that are well established to the point of being discernible to the outsider and can act as a starting point for establishing credibility.
  • Re:Weird objection (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @07:42PM (#26731351) Homepage

    Yeah, I acknowledge that my concern shouldn't really be the primary concern. There's a reason I wanted to call it a "weird" objection.

    I just think it is possible to put too much faith in peer review, given that the "peers" reviewing it are also human beings, just as fallible as other human beings. Computers are arguably less fallible in other ways, but of course they can't really make judgements. So I'm just really trying to point out that, in the other cases where we mix fallible human beings with machine judgement, we tend to get very powerful systems that can work well in some ways, but we also tend to end up with important things getting lost in the shuffle.

    I used the example of a spam filter. My Gmail spam filter still lets some spam through, and gets occasional false-positives. Still, I use it, and I'd hate to have to filter through all that spam myself.

  • by tehgnome ( 947555 ) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @09:13PM (#26732135) Homepage
    I feel the arXiv system is a bit weak, but when I RTFAed, this is precisely what I thought of. I would love to see this be implemented with arXiv.
  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @12:37AM (#26733715)

    Isn't "web of trust" in the same synosphere as Greenspan's failed notion of counter party surveillance? Wasn't it a "web of trust" which allowed the Catholic church to conceal deeply entrenched violations of trust while delaying its apology to Galileo for 400 years? Wasn't "web of trust" what allowed Madoff to dig a $50b crater? What percentage of novel endorsements from one genre author to another come equipped with a set of kneepads?

    Why is it that so many people are allured by this concept?

The most important early product on the way to developing a good product is an imperfect version.