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Science

The Scientific Paper Is Obsolete (theatlantic.com) 152

James Somers, writing for The Atlantic: The scientific paper -- the actual form of it -- was one of the enabling inventions of modernity. Before it was developed in the 1600s, results were communicated privately in letters, ephemerally in lectures, or all at once in books. There was no public forum for incremental advances. By making room for reports of single experiments or minor technical advances, journals made the chaos of science accretive. Scientists from that point forward became like the social insects: They made their progress steadily, as a buzzing mass.

The earliest papers were in some ways more readable than papers are today. They were less specialized, more direct, shorter, and far less formal. Calculus had only just been invented. Entire data sets could fit in a table on a single page. What little "computation" contributed to the results was done by hand and could be verified in the same way.

The more sophisticated science becomes, the harder it is to communicate results. Papers today are longer than ever and full of jargon and symbols. They depend on chains of computer programs that generate data, and clean up data, and plot data, and run statistical models on data. These programs tend to be both so sloppily written and so central to the results that it's contributed to a replication crisis, or put another way, a failure of the paper to perform its most basic task: to report what you've actually discovered, clearly enough that someone else can discover it for themselves.

The Scientific Paper Is Obsolete

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2018 @06:05PM (#56442893)

    We are now in an era where only very few people actually need to know how reality works. The rest of us can become brand managers and youtube content creators.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      when was it otherwise?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Arguably, the handful of decades somewhere between WWII and the 1990s.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/12/13/the-truth-wears-off
          Great article discussing the consequences of subconscious bias warping a large portion of published data

        • So you look at 50 years of advancements and we go (often during a time frame which you didn't reley on the old ways of doing things) Wow, Science was really expanding, Nuclear Power (New way to boil water that we have been doing for thousands of years), Space Craft (Those hundred year old rockets, were finally upscale), Computers! (The hundred year old adding machine and typewriter, got improvements.)
          Then you compare it to Today's advancements, Smart Phones, Quantum computing, Genetics.... Where we are com

    • We are now in an era where only very few people actually need to know how reality works. The rest of us can become brand managers and youtube content creators.

      That way lies Superstition and belief in "Magic" ! 8-}

      • Machiavelli once stated, "the masses are ignorant." Sadly, we still are.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by BlueStrat ( 756137 )

          Machiavelli once stated, "the masses are ignorant." Sadly, we still are.

          Who cares what some ancient old Italian race-car driver dude said? Ain't he dead? /s

          Strat :)

        • What he didn't state and probably didn't realize is that they apparently WANT to be ignorant. Never before in the history of mankind it has been easier to acquire information and wisdom. And never before in the history of mankind have people been more willfully ignorant.

          • What he didn't state and probably didn't realize is that they apparently WANT to be ignorant. Never before in the history of mankind it has been easier to acquire information and wisdom. And never before in the history of mankind have people been more willfully ignorant.

            Not so much, actually. They usually have their own area of expertise and have little interest in your's. Which is good because they get to hire you, if they need that.

            Even digging a ditch requires expertise. Do it without knowledge and you will have much pain and maybe broken bones.

            Often, when you hear people say this, it is because others have disagreed with them. Disagreement is different from stupid. 8-)

            • This isn't what I mean. What I mean is people chasing fairy tales and coming up with harebrained ideas about how the universe works to make their little fairy tale land "work". I'm not talking about someone not wanting to know everything. Nobody knows everything. I'm talking about people willfully and deliberately believing nonsense for the sake of not being "mainstream".

              • This isn't what I mean. What I mean is people chasing fairy tales and coming up with harebrained ideas about how the universe works to make their little fairy tale land "work". I'm not talking about someone not wanting to know everything. Nobody knows everything. I'm talking about people willfully and deliberately believing nonsense for the sake of not being "mainstream".

                Well, maybe they like being that way. Or, maybe they are "trolling" you. Or maybe you don't actually know what is a fairy tale and what is not? 8-)

            • Sadly, Machiavelli's statement is not based on the importance on your perception or understandings; but that informing you is wasted energy, and that it is OK. Machiavelli's narrative is for a leader, not the rank and file folks.
    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 ) on Sunday April 15, 2018 @08:35PM (#56443387)

      More seriously, we are in a world where very few people can understand how reality works.

      Anyone with a high school level of scientific background can understand Newtonian mechanics, most people have trouble with special relativity but with the right mindset, it is not that hard. General relativity and quantum mechanics pretty much require years of specialized studies, and these are what form the basis of reality as we know it today. Mastery in these fields are a requirement in order to go further.
      As for our understanding of nature, we know the physics of throwing rocks very well, no need to do more research about that. The unsolved problems involve crazy accurate measurements, scales that are well beyond human, or complicated interactions.

      • Dark matter kind of throws our rock chucking equations into the crapper for large scale and big rocks

        • And most likely we just don't know something yet. Like we did a century ago when we noticed that Mercury doesn't move around the Sun as it should. Back then we thought that some other object must be responsible and were looking for it. Today we know that relativity is the culprit.

          I dare say we'll find something similar explaining what we now think is "dark matter/energy".

          • even the searches for dark horse candidates for dark matter are coming up empty. and the Higg's boson is *dangerously* light. and our two best models of reality can't be reconciled at all.

            we don't know how the fundamental things work yet

            • Yup. It just takes another Einstein, then we're gonna make another leap forwards.

              • the "lone wolf" type is discouraged these days. True in science, true in the corporation. And probably 99.9% of the time that's a good and proper thing, most good really is accomplished with teams and collaboration. I have a feeling though that a more useful model of reality will come from a lone wolf though

                • I don't say that this one person has to work alone. Maybe he just needs to be the one showing the direction.

                  In the end, it doesn't matter as long as we eventually solve the problem.

          • When Saturn didn't move like we expected it to, the result was Uranus. When that didn't move as expected, we found Neptune.

            The orbital mechanics of Mercury are a single thing, originally explained by the hypothetical planet Vulcan and then Special Relativity. Dark Matter explains several different things, including galactic rotation and gravitational lensing.

            • One thing, many things... in the end, it could well again have one single reason, or even many different ones. Maybe us looking for a single reason is the fault here. I don't know. I'm just certain that we'll get answers eventually. Maybe I'll even be still around when it happens.

              We're living in times when our knowledge and understanding is jumping ahead at a pace unmatched by history. What you learned in school about the universe is most likely obsolete by now. And yes, that's scary to many people because

              • When you have one fairly simple hypothesis that explains many different discrepancies, it's fairly likely to be correct. Looking for single reasons is one of the things science does. We had Kepler's laws that accurately described orbital motion and we noticed that things fall when they drop them, and Newton unified those into a law of gravity.

    • We are now in an era where only very few people actually need to know how reality works. The rest of us can become brand managers and youtube content creators.

      There's an acceptance of this. It's unusual for someone to read a journal article before, say, junior year of undergrad. A lot of people probably graduate without reading one at all. Many of them will never pick one up in later life.

      It means they can be duped more easily. When was the last time someone you know who disagreed with the existence of global warming picked up a journal article by a climate scientist? When was the last time someone who hates charter schools read through a journal article on chart

      • Damn. Well said.

      • Revelle buffer (Score:4, Informative)

        by Latent Heat ( 558884 ) on Monday April 16, 2018 @08:49AM (#56445237)

        How many scientists engaged in climate science research understand even the basics of the Carbon Cycle?

        It is more or less generally accepted in the climate science community that the 20th century increase in atmospheric CO2 accounts for half of humanity's emissions of CO2, with the remaining half absorbed by sinks that are only partially understood. There is evidence from high-precision analytical chemistry methods for quantifying atmospheric oxygen available for only the last decades that about half of the net "sunk" CO2 is taken up by net photosynthesis over respiration whereas the remaining sink must be inorganic where free oxygen is not released in exchange for sequestered CO2.

        It is broadly reasoned that emissions of CO2 are changing the carbon-isotope profile of the atmosphere -- what is called the Suess Effect after R. Revelle and H. E. Suess (1957) Carbon Dioxide Exchange Between Atmosphere and Ocean and the Question of an Increase of Atmospheric CO, during the Past Decades, Tellus IX (1) pp. 18-27. This dilution of carbon isotopes in the atmosphere from combustion of fuel with a "fossil" isotope profile differing from the atmospheric baseline was throwing off C-14 carbon dating until it was recognized data methods were accordingly corrected.

        The Suess Effect dilution of carbon isotopes, however, is considerable less than expected from a simple addition of combusted carbon with the fossil isotope profile. The carbon capacity of the ocean is 50 times that of the atmosphere, so why doesn't nearly all of the emitted CO2 isn't absorbed into the ocean. The rapid extinction of radioactive C-14 after the 60's Nuclear Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty suggests this should be the case.

        The linear Henry's Law for solubility of gas in liquid would require that the dilution of carbon isotopes should be in direct measure with the emitted CO2, but Revelle's earlier work posited a chemical buffer system, where the mineral stew that is ocean water binds absorbed CO2 into what are called "soluble inorganic carbonates." Equilibrium in chemical reactions is non-linear and follows product law in the concentrations of the reagents. Physical chemists regard Revelle's buffer system to follow a 10th power law in the concentration of atmospheric CO2. This means that it takes a 10-fold increase in atmospheric CO2 to effect a 1-fold increase in CO2 in the ocean buffer system.

        The ocean is vast, and even with the Revelle Factor of 10, most of the CO2 emitted by humanity should have disappeared into the ocean. Revelle and Suess in 1957 speculated on possible large natural sources of CO2 emission to balance this out. Since then, it is a scientific consensus that it takes a long time for the deep ocean to "turn over" by natural circulation and the combination of the Revelle buffer with a "compartmental" ocean model accounts for what is observed without that large, unknown natural source. But the deep ocean is difficult to measure, and the modelling is hand-wavy, at least in comparison to the multiple sigmas required to discover a new subatomic particle, although the atmospheric oxygen measures suggest a bound on how much CO2 is absorbed in the ocean.

        But not just in the annual seasonal fluctuation but also year-to-year and over longer time scales, the variation in net CO2 increase in the atmosphere is large in comparison to the human contribution, suggesting variation in the exchanges of CO2 with the biosphere, the flows of which are known to be large compared to human-caused emissions. This variation also correlates with atmospheric temperature data. NOAA Carbon Cycle maven Pieter Tams argues this variation to result from changes in the rapid rotting of leaf litter in the tropical rain forests and is only short term. There is a body of literature emerging that rising global temperature are having a multi-decadal effect on increased CO2 driven out of temperate region soils, a potentially dangerous positive feedback leading to a runaway greenhouse.

        Actually, you cannot have it

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          How many scientists engaged in climate science research understand even the basics of the Carbon Cycle?

          [...]

          Given that the first topic in my first university course on climate change was The Carbon Cycle, my bet is that nearly all climate scientists have a fairly well-developed understanding of the Carbon Cycle.

          So much of science and scientific publishing relies on what I cynically call "argument by authority" -- someone got some claim past peer review so I will cite it without having to defend it to the reviewers of my paper.[...]

          "Argument by Authority" is a well known logical fallacy, in which most scientists are well-versed. Argument by Authority is particularly egregious when the argument is by someone who isn't an authority at all, yet claims to be. This is common in more main stream media, including the kinds of crappy general

          • The oceans are not absorbing the bulk of the (anthropogenic) carbon emissions -- their net absorption is only a quarter of what is emitted. This is the consensus, not a fringe conclusion.

            The "CO2" skeptics Salby, Pettersson and Essenhigh claim that the oceans should be absorbing the bulk of the emitted CO2 -- mainstream scientists Revelle and Suess thought the same thing, but the reasons why they are not absorbing the bulk of CO2 is buried in the literature.

            I shall look for your reference, but the tec

        • We know about how much fossil fuel we burn, and therefore how much CO2 we put into the atmosphere. We also measure the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. As far as changing the temperature goes, it doesn't matter whether we put the CO2 in the atmosphere directly or release some because of warming. Either method is anthropogenic, directly or indirectly. And here you are making crap up about what scientists do and don't know and trying to make elaborate arguments to deny reality.

      • If you don't read an article every once in a while, or if you don't know how, you're just trusting that whoever sounds best is right.

        It is actually worse than that because of predatory journals which have low to non-existent standards. Even people who read articles can easily get fooled if they read one of these so you not only need to read articles you need to know which journals to read and sometimes even which authors to trust.

      • When was the last time the someone who is in charge of public schools visited a public school that is struggling?

        *hint*
        the answer rhymes with "ever"

      • ... When was the last time someone who hates charter schools read through a journal article on charter schools by an economist?

        Economists don't evaluate educational results, so not a highly enlightening source for intel on charter schools v. public schools
        The economist will always prefer the "Devil take the hindmost" approach.

    • Yes, science is obsolete for an increasing number of people. Not because they don't need science anymore, but because science doesn't satisfy them anymore. Science is SO removed from what most people can understand and SO specialized that we have arrived at the point where to more and more people it's no longer something they can understand, but it's something they have to believe.

      And if they have to believe anyway, why not believe something that's easier to understand and more comforting?

      And this is where

    • That is why there is a profession of a scientist, and these people are even specialized in different areas.
      There job is to follow the Scientific process to help understand and document how things work.
      Now with a new found understanding of things, it gives more options for professions such as engineers. To help create better products, know where tolerance limits are, be able to create new materials. Based on a widening set of options to pick from. It also can be used by policy makers, to to help identify re

  • In China, it sure seems to be.
  • trash (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is more bullshit. blah blah scientists suck blah blah blah. Tripe.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    When there's no justification for not publishing papers online for free, they're suddenly "obsolete". Funny that isn't it?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    And it isn't our fault your parents raised you to be insufferable little know-nothing shits. If you are offended, talk to them.

  • Bull. Shit. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2018 @06:18PM (#56442931)

    That you can flood a scientific paper with reams of computer generated data is NOT science. That's technobabble. The point of the scientific paper is to lay down, ON PAPER, the technique you used and what you observed and then, in a separate section, editorializing what you've proven (or refuted).

    That so-called scientific papers will merely dump the computer generated data or flood the paper with technical jargon without exposing the underlying algorithm or technique IS the problem.

    At one time science was intended for the masses - that the Atlantic attributes this to "a simpler time" is also moronic as it was the intent of the authors, in fact all authors of the time, to write clearly and succinctly so that anyone could understand their work. You see that not only in the scientific papers of the time but also in the laws (the US Constitution). You also see the same problem in laws today where laws are now tends of thousands of pages long. How is any one person (let alone a dedicated group) supposed to understand the law as written?

    To wit - it's a societal problem, not a scientific one or a problem with "overcomplex science"

    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Sunday April 15, 2018 @07:18PM (#56443163)

      At one time science was intended for the masses - that the Atlantic attributes this to "a simpler time" is also moronic as it was the intent of the authors, in fact all authors of the time, to write clearly and succinctly so that anyone could understand their work.

      Science has never been "for the masses". Most concepts of any meaningful complexity are not going to be written at an 8th grade reading level. Issac Newton's Principia is certainly not written "for the masses" nor should it be expected to be dumbed down. As Einstein once put it, things should be made as simple as possible but no simpler.

      You see that not only in the scientific papers of the time but also in the laws (the US Constitution).

      The Constitution isn't really a law. It is a framework for the laws. It sets the boundaries that are fleshed out by the laws. The actual federal laws are the United States Code [wikipedia.org], the United States Reports [wikipedia.org] and the Code of Federal Regulations [wikipedia.org]. There also

      You also see the same problem in laws today where laws are now tends of thousands of pages long. How is any one person (let alone a dedicated group) supposed to understand the law as written?

      You are presupposing that it is a good thing that laws be so simple that a single person can understand and know all them. The reality of our society is that it is so complex that the laws governing it inevitably will be similarly complex. Make a simple law and there are going to be gaps in that law unless you add complexity to deal with the corner cases. To circle back, science has no obligation to be simple enough for "the masses" to comprehend any or all of it.

      • IANL, but I think you're both right. There are complicated things in this world, and laws need to be complicated to account for them (not to mention unambiguous). But when the tax code for ordinary citizens (I'm not even talking corporations) is so complicated that IRS employees who are answering questions from the public can't understand it, perhaps it's gotten more complicated than it needs to be.

        True story. About ten years ago, the IRS told me I had miscalculated my taxes. In fear and trembling, I lo

        • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday April 16, 2018 @07:19AM (#56444961)

          But when the tax code for ordinary citizens (I'm not even talking corporations) is so complicated that IRS employees who are answering questions from the public can't understand it, perhaps it's gotten more complicated than it needs to be.

          Oh there is no question that you can overdo the complexity. But most of the unnecessary complexity of our tax code comes from politicians using it to fund their pet social policies inappropriately. For example whether you are married or single should have ZERO impact on your taxes. If the government wants to address that, the tax code is not the proper place to do it. If the government wants to subsidize something, just do so directly. Using taxes to do it is inefficient and adds needless complexity to the tax code. So we get heaping mounds of complexity where none needs to exist.

          That said, some of that complexity is necessary. If we are going to have an income tax (whether we should is a separate question) you have to define income and that is surprisingly difficult to do in a way that doesn't have loopholes you can drive a semi through. I'm an accountant so I should know. There also is the question of fairness which is more of a social question than a technical one but it's also hard to have a tax code that is fair, functional, and simple. (no - plans like a flat tax fail that test though I understand the appeal) As HL Menken said "there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong."

          • For example whether you are married or single should have ZERO impact on your taxes.

            It's more complicated than that. Consider two married couples with family incomes of $100K. In the first, the husband and wife each earn $50K; in the second, one of them earns $100K while the other does support functions (taking over most of the housework, being available for company events, etc. - I have a relative who was a corporate wife, and couldn't have a real career of her own). Should they pay the same or differ

        • So, some IRS employees didn't understand the law correctly, but since you were disputing the law they referred it to someone who did know the law. Isn't this how the system is supposed to work?

          • My point is that referring the case to the law system should never have been necessary. It should instead have been possible for the employees who audit returns to come up with the right answer without a lawyer.

            But you're right in that the law system worked as it should have in this case.

    • Good point, but there is a uniquely scientific dimension to things no longer being targeted to the masses. It all started with the a-bomb, and science moved from source of cute inventions to human destiny shaping. Now it's so tied with national security, I wonder what fundamental breakthroughs may have happened deemed too dangerous to be publically known. How would we know?

      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        No, it started with the Enlightenment (and before them, the Greeks) when those primeval scientists realized that the masses knew squat and were incapable of understanding more sophisticated concepts and methods. No amount of writing for the masses is going to make them understand complicated interacting systems, mathematics, physics, etc. And most proles don't want to know about those elements of science. What they want are whizzy things that make their lives easier or more fun.

    • by Falconnan ( 4073277 ) on Monday April 16, 2018 @04:23AM (#56444607)

      I think the problem is misidentified in your comment, but in the details. The data publication is part of the peer review and publication process. It allows another specialist in the field to go over your study and its results, and attempt to replicate them. It also allows for discussion of conclusions. The "Abstract" is supposed to be the basic, plain language breakdown, including the conclusions. However, while you're right about the societal issue, there's a deeper one: All of the relatively easy science has been done. The questions are getting more complex. We're looking to more subtle phenomena to find more secrets of the way reality works.

      The observations of physical phenomena that allow computers to work far exceeds the time of Newton (believed by many to be the last time one human could know the sum total of accumulated knowledge about nature). Fields are specialized, and "jargon/technobabble" are the layman's epithets for a field's shorthand that he/she doesn't get. Yes, we could likely simplify the law. Knowledge is not so readily boiled down. No one bats an eye at the odd uses of common words you find in the skilled trades, but everyone loses their shit when a scientist falls back on terms with precise meanings within their own fields.

      NOTE: It was once common practice to include an attempt at a layperson's digest with a lot of papers, or at least publish it alongside the paper. This has gone away, which is a shame. However, when every such digest turns into Dunning-Kruger effect demonstration with the public, I would think it gets old. But a lot of the science being done now is beyond the limits of common understanding. Quantum computing, block chains, AMPS firewalls... It's hard to try to break that stuff down for the masses when the Flat Earthers are gaining ground!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      > You also see the same problem in laws today where laws are now tends of thousands of pages long. How is any one person (let alone a dedicated group) supposed to understand the law as written?

      This is especially galling when those in power say stuff along the lines of "not knowing the law is no excuse for not following it". If it takes years of dedicated study to understand the law, and the vast majority of the population do not study law to anywhere near that degree, how the hell are we supposed to foll

    • The Scientific communication is not obsolete.
      The paper form is.
      But more importantly, what is really obsolete is the actual business model for profit editors on science content, like Elsevier, or IEEE and their dark friends.
      They need abolishing or regulation. The fees they want just to read the content are horrendous, and non justified in the actual situation.
      We need freely accessible science. For Everybody.
      Ask a small fee for publishing, for example.

    • Science is intended for the masses, the problem is that the masses are not interested in science and with time progressing not even capable of understanding basic concepts (aka flat Earth).

      From what I read, in XIX (19th) century science was a common topic of discussions at homes and publicly, people were interested, were talking about science and participated in public lectures organized for non-scientists. Leaders consulted scientists, artists took inspiration from science. And to the contrary, nowadays
    • Have you ever contributed to a non-trivial paper? I've contributed to a few, and for an experiment of any complexity (at least in my field, which was testing the effects of radiation on electronics) there will be thousands of lines of control and data collection software, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of instrumentation with very consequential configuration options which would take thousands of lines to describe completely, spreadsheets and/or scripts for the data analysis, schematics for the many

  • by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Sunday April 15, 2018 @06:25PM (#56442955) Journal

    The scientific paper will last as long as paper-printing does. It's still very convenient.

    That being said, TFA does make a good point about how current technology can do better than paper. If designed well, an interactive document with computer-driven content can convey a deeper and clearer message.

    Better still, perhaps an AI embedded within the document could answer questions about it.

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      Errrm...most "papers" these days are never printed. We call them, get this, Documents. And who among us has the time to mechanize a document with computer-driven content, and to what end. And poking in computer driven content does not automatically make for a deeper and clearer message, it isn't magic pixie dust. Difficult concepts and methods are difficult, hence the appellation, "difficult". Sure, let's embed AI into a document. We only need make for sentient AI to understand the document, its context (fe

  • What (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cinnamon Beige ( 1952554 ) on Sunday April 15, 2018 @06:30PM (#56442969)

    I'm not sure what is going on here, except that the summary reads like clickbait.

    The rule of thumb I was taught was that you write your papers with the assumption that your reader's got only a basic background in the field. We're talking 'has completed a minor in the field' levels at most, typically--you fill in the holes necessary to understand the paper itself in the introduction. At least in the fields I was in, nearly anything that made it into a significant journal--meaning, anything worth even reading the abstract--would be using one of a set of programs for the number crunching, and at least some of the options were open source. Unless there were privacy concerns, you generally could get a copy of the data sets with a few emails if you wanted to shove 'em through a different one of the standard number-cruching programs--privacy concerns just add a few extra hoops. Regardless of that, somebody should have the raw data and it should be in electronic form. You should typically know before you even start the email conversation if there ought to be privacy concerns; if they claim there are when there shouldn't be, or that they somehow don't have the data still, that's a red flag, especially if you're being very interested in learning more about their research and not in the least bit hostile, because researchers are normally very happy to talk about their work as much as they're able to. (It's a great way to keep one happily chattering away for a while, too.)

    If you can't understand the jargon and symbols, and you're got a reasonably good background in the field...Google-fu will help some, but generally it's a sign that you've found a journal to dump papers to when you're in a publish-or-perish situation, and the number of papers published matters more than if any of them are of any quality whatsoever.

    The scientific paper isn't obsolete. How publication works and academia's relationship to it, however...

    • With grammar that atrocious, it is difficult to take your assessment of the scientific paper seriously.

      Sorry.
    • The rule of thumb I was taught was that you write your papers with the assumption that your reader's got only a basic background in the field.

      That is entirely incorrect. Absolutely no researcher writes papers that way, and they never have. When writing a scientific article (not a pop sci piece) the reader is assumed to be familiar with the specific field in which the journal deals.

      This goes so far as to compel a referee/reviewer from recusing him/herself from reviewing an article they feel insufficiently competent for. And if, at rare occasions, some junior researcher (usually from China) decides to referee a manuscript they aren't qualified for,

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2018 @06:31PM (#56442973)

    If programs are central to the evaluation of a paper then programs need to be published alongside the paper - in source code form.

    It doesn't matter if the source code is published with Apache, BSD, GPL, MIT or no license at all (remains copyright to the authors.)

    What matters is that the source code is available to review alongside the paper. In this, it isn't performance that is critical, but bugs that influence results, be they buffer overflows or simply logic errors.

    A group of people separate to those that do the peer review of papers then needs to review the source code for correctness as to the results it produces.

    • Answer is: publish source code with paper

      Some journals already require this. Nature Methods, for example requires papers which for example publish a new algorithm to publish the code.

      Some code is well published: apparently the researchers (or more likely a group postdoc) had a real calling as a software Engineer and they ensure the code is portable and have irregular releases after to combat bitrot and make sure the code continues to run on reasonably modern systems. Most of the other code...

      Remember the b

    • Exactly. The scientific method is all about publishing your methods, so that others can check and duplicate your work. What's worse, "scientists" who use closed software cannot even know what they're doing in their own lab. That's worse than a math exam answer with just the result and "I did it on a calculator".
  • Missing the point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cowtamer ( 311087 ) on Sunday April 15, 2018 @06:37PM (#56442997) Journal

    One of the main points of a scientific paper is that it's peer reviewed.

    A decent paper will probably take around 2 hours to read and 2-12 months to write. As inefficient as this is, it has some desirable properties:

    1) It presents information in a somewhat standardized format. After all the gimmicky digital notebooks etc turn to dust and the software which runs them becomes obsolete, the articles will remain.

    2) It provides references and allows you to use itself as a starting point to discover more about the subject and the claims.

    3) It generally represents an incremental advancement in the field.

    Aside from the fact that the article is essentially a Mathematica ad, it is somewhat clear that the author has it written any scientific papers

    • Re the notebooks turning to dust: in some fields, it almost doesn't matter that this happens. I'm guessing that high energy physics is one of those fields; who wants/ needs to re-run a cyclotron experiment from the 1950s? But the other part of this--software becoming obsolete--is a much shorter time period, and I suspect a lot of fields get caught in that.

      For some fields, both things matter. I'm a linguist, and a grammar + dictionary of some indigenous language written in the 1940s is just as important t

    • I've found the longer the paper takes to read generally means the less worthwhile the paper is. I've read some papers in fields I'm familiar with, and when I get done I still don't know WTF they're talking about. So I start breaking it down, slashing through all the jargon and word soup, working through the math myself, and finally when I understand what they're actually saying.... I realize they really don't have much. A bunch of dense language, big words, and technical terms thrown about with some fanc

  • See subject.
  • there are thousands of AI bots, spamming the Internet with millions of generated articles full of nothing...

    A nice book or piece of paper won't suddenly disappear when you need it as a reference/footnote.

  • by cwsumner ( 1303261 ) on Sunday April 15, 2018 @06:44PM (#56443037)

    The Scientific Paper Is not obsolete, it has just fallen into evil ways. Paper or electronic, it is still needed in it's original purpose. It just needs to be "beaten with a blacksmith's hammer to get the rust and crud off" !

    • There need to be more peer reviewers whose sole job is to back up the results. To do the experiments or follow the math and to be able to say that the findings are valid or not. It is a perfect job for both the older experienced people and entry level people in that field.

      • The entry-level people need to get papers of their own out, the way academia's set up. Besides, someone is going to have to pay for the duplication of research, and that doesn't appear to be all that popular with funding agencies.

  • Strongly disagree (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2018 @06:52PM (#56443063)

    As a scientist who has published papers in peer-reviewed journals, I strongly disagree. I don't care for many aspects of the publication process or how academia works, but the scientific paper isn't obsolete.

    Regarding the use of software in creating results, it is definitely a problem when that software is difficult to use or isn't available at all. The same goes for data sets, many of which aren't released publicly for a variety of reasons. These are issues that need to be addressed.

    In my own work, I try to release the software used to perform my analysis under the GPLv3. I also try to include adequate documentation to allow the work to be reproducible. I also support making data publicly available, but sometimes the volume of data sets makes it prohibitive to redistribute the work. The best option in that case is to provide detailed instructions on how to generate the data set. But sometimes it's even worse, such as when the research requires using a closed source program with a license that prohibits redistributing the output. The license makes it relatively difficult to obtain the software for anyone outside of the US government or academia, unless they pay for a commercial license. There isn't a comparable piece of software, but the university that licenses the software uses restrictive licensing requirements to increase their revenue.

    To the extent that it's possible, scientists receiving grant funding ought to release their software as free and open source software. The data sets should be released or detailed instructions should be included to allow others to generate the same data set.

    Papers can be difficult to read, but there are at least some steps in the right direction. One of the encouraging changes is the use of more first person in scientific papers and less passive voice. The formal tone is being being phased out in favor of readability. I wholeheartedly support this because the subject matter is difficult enough to understand without awkward sentence structures. Peer-reviewed papers also provide some level of quality control for research, though not to the extent of reproducibility.

    Scientific papers still have a place, because they're still the best opportunity for scientists to present the key points of their results and describe their methods in detail. Simply releasing software and data sets is not enough. Those also aren't peer-reviewed. The bigger issue is that there just isn't a lot of funding to ensure that results are reproducible. Due to funding limits, there just isn't a lot of effort to reproduce all but the most surprising results. It would be great if funding agencies like NSF would allocate more funds for ensuring the reproducibility of existing results. Unfortunately, funding is so competitive that researchers have to sell their work as being very novel rather than verifying existing research.

    • Yes scientific papers are not perfect, but are still very important. The summary seems to devolve into "bad papers are bad". Papers are only one source of scientific information. There are large databanks, software projects and repositories, etc, all with different struggles depending on the field.
    • "Simply releasing software and data sets is not enough. Those also aren't peer-reviewed. The bigger issue is that there just isn't a lot of funding to ensure that results are reproducible." Preach it, brother! I just got done reviewing some conference papers, at least one of which was accompanied by software + data. Do you think I took the time to run the software on their data? No. Much less examine their data to see if it was representative, clean, etc. I don't have time for that, and as you say, th

      • Who cares? Either it is a known method giving unknown/new results on an established data-set, which is almost certainly a mistake. Or a brand new method, giving unexpected results, in which case I want to review the algorithm itself, not its realization in software; if the algorithm proof is solid, many people will want to implement it in their own way. If the data-set is new, I will recommend to the author that he first verifies it using some standard techniques, before he tries a new approach on it.

  • not dead (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AndyKron ( 937105 ) on Sunday April 15, 2018 @06:54PM (#56443073)
    Quality not quantity. If it can't be explained in a paper it's probably wrong.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      But employment as a scientist has been gamified by publication metrics, so of course it's all gone to shit. As always, bad management is the scourge of the modern age.

    • You have any evidence for that? ;)
  • by Proudrooster ( 580120 ) on Sunday April 15, 2018 @07:26PM (#56443181) Homepage

    MIT Random Paper Generator for computer science papers
    https://pdos.csail.mit.edu/arc... [mit.edu]

    Mathgen for Math Papers
    http://thatsmathematics.com/ma... [thatsmathematics.com]

    Seriously, does anyone even read the paper anymore? I read the abstract and possibly the method.

    At the end of the day, it is just an academic echo chamber where every paper references each other and none of it is very earth shattering. You should read the dissertations that don't make it into journals, those are really sad. For example, "Analysis of Socioeconomic Status and Student Achievement", or in other words, "Poor kids don't get good grades.", most papers could classified as Ric Romero papers where the outcome is obvious or in some cases statistically insignificant such that more papers need to be written with new experimental methods.

    But for those of your writing papers, I leave you with my favorite research design song.
    https://youtu.be/Hxbz656Euyw [youtu.be]

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "Seriously, does anyone even read the paper anymore?"

      Yes I do, nearly always, but there's an activation energy to really getting into them. I've recently finished a 4 year PhD. Maybe I'm slower than most, but despite reading papers on the topic throughout the project, it wasn't until the last 6 months that I really started to get them. I could read papers from start to finish and understand all of the content, recognize most of the references as work I had read before, and also spot where the authors were m

    • At the end of the day, it is just an academic echo chamber where every paper references each other and none of it is very earth shattering.

      Good science is often obvious in hindsight. [lesswrong.com] This isn't an artifact of the science, it's an artifact of hindsight, and of one of the many deep and systematic biases inherent to the human brain.

  • by physicsphairy ( 720718 ) on Sunday April 15, 2018 @07:52PM (#56443253) Homepage

    They were less specialized, more direct, shorter, and far less formal.

    It's funny having the Atlantic argue for concise articulation of an idea. Printing this article would take 17 pages.

  • Too much 'science' today consists of gathering a ton of data and clobbering it with statistics.

    That's a dangerous trend. It's not science.

  • The scientific paper may indeed be obsolete.

    But magazines like The Atlantic certainly are obsolete.

  • As long as the academic research system values quantity over quality (AKA "publish or perish"), researchers will be pressured to publish papers as frequently as possible regardless of their quality or that they make meaningful contributions to science. Yes, it's really difficult to reproduce incoherent trash. Give "good" researchers tenure and reward the quality of the science they do, then we might learn more interesting and useful stuff. Prioritising quantity over quality just creates more noise in which
  • I'm also a scientist, and like several others here, have serious problems with the prestige publishing culture of science, but the paper itself is not the problem. Could we present material better? Sure. Those are very field specific pedagogy issues though, we're not nearly all doing the same things wrong.

    The problem with the premise of the article is the presumption that the paper IS the science. A scientific publication is not a scientific achievement, it is the scientific version of a press release (wi

    • I'm also a scientist, and like several others here, have serious problems with the prestige publishing culture of science

      It's a problem with science funding, more than science per-se. Want a career? You have to have "impact", whcih means publish in the most well known places etc. Seriously who likes slogging through reviews at a venue with a 3% acceptance rate?

  • First, papers are not necessarily getting longer. It depends on the discipline and outlet. In CS papers are often published in context of conferences. They have generally page limited. In other disciplines and in journals, papers can become longer, as they have to provide more context as the disciplines and subdisciplines accumulate more knowledge. You just need more context info to understand the stuff.

    Second, in CS, especially in software engineering, publications require now an empirical evaluation of th

  • That was my favorite line in mid-1990s SIGGraph paper presentations. Riiiiight. My other favorite was when SIGGraph "course" conveniently glossed over the C/C++ code for implementing an adaptive 4th-order Runge-Kutta solver which is the key to any dynamics simulation software.

  • by volkris ( 694 ) on Monday April 16, 2018 @11:51AM (#56446247)

    The point of scientific journals is not to communicate findings to the public but to record findings and share them with other members of the scientific community.

    The papers are full of jargon because that's the state of the discipline. And it's not a bad thing. The people reading the papers will be up to speed on the jargon, so that's just how it's most effectively communicated.

    Journals just wouldn't work if every paper had to start with a multi-year course on the topic to get the reader up to speed. It's up to the reader to have the background needed to understand the paper.

    That's not obsolete; it's cutting edge!

UNIX enhancements aren't.

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