Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Will Google Scholar Dominate the World of Research?...

For years academics have used closed systems of peer reviewed journals, purposely shielded from the public.  Is that era changing?

"We believe everyone should have a chance to stand on the shoulders of giants." Google Scholar

What is Google Scholar? Let us begin with Google's own words.
Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research.

There are some who believe that, " day almost any article, book chapter, or book will be available in some form through the Internet and electronic databases and bibliographies.  Internet information services, such as Google Scholar, Blackwell, Informaworld, and Springer, have already made tremendous strides in this direction.  Given their high costs, printed journals may soon become obsolete (Butler 1996b)."

What is Peer Review?

However not all agree with this idyllic presentation of peer review. We could not embed this and we do not know how long this link will be up. But it is wonderful satire. Go here.  Here is another account of peer review covered by BBC.
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A Short History of Peer Review
Because of the slowness of the printing process of the 1600s, the first scientific journals were started, The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London and the Journal des Scavans in 1665.  It was the Royal Society that first started evaluating some of the articles they received for publication.  Before long, other journals followed suit.  The question is, is the present method of peer review doing the same thing as the original?  Is it giving a timely review to new ideas?  Or is it slowing down progress by its slow pace?  In 1937, the first laws were passed in the United States making it a requirement that all monies going to the National Cancer Institute, go to projects that had undergone peer review.**

The Relationship Between Tenure, Peer Review and Scholarly Journals

In the most prestigious universities, tenure is very much connected to research. Research is connected to getting grants.  Grants are dependent on first producing articles that are peer reviewed.  Thus peer review, is at the core of the future of any college professor.***   There have been severe criticisms of the peer review system as cited by Shamoo and Resnik:
Numerous scholars have provided evidence that peer reviewers have significant bias and low agreement of opinions on the same proposal or potential publication (Cole et al. 1978, Cole and Cole 1981, Chubin and Hackett 1990, Bower 1991, Oxman et al., 1991, Roy 1993, Shamoo 1993, 1994a, Fletcher and Fletcher 1997).  Some of the biases that can affect peer review include theoretical, conceptual, and methodological disagreements; professional rivalries; institutional biases; and personal feuds (Hull 1998, Godlee 2000).  There is considerable evidence that the peer review process may not catch even the simple mistakes and that it is certainly not effective at detecting plagiarism and fraud (Peters and Ceci 1982, LaFollete 1992, Goodman 1994). ****
 The authors go on to critique peer review in an area that is supposed to be its strength.
This problem is especially pronounced in the realm of controversial research (Barber 1961, Chalmers et al. 1990, Godlee2000).  Controversial research does not fit neatly into well-established research traditions, norms, or paradigms.  It is what the famous historian of science Thomas Kuhn (1970) dubbed "revolutionary science" (in contrast with "normal science").  Research can be controversial for a number of reasons: It may be highly creative of innovative, it may challenge previously held theories, or it may be interdisciplinary.  Interdisciplinary work provides an additional challenge for reviewers because reviewers may come from different disciplines with different standards for review, and no single reviewer may have all the education or training required to give an overall evaluation of an interdisciplinary project.***
Since according to Shamoo and Resnick, "...the most important advances in science occur through controversial or 'revolutionary' science (Kuhn 1970, Shamoo 1994a)"** , these kinds of papers are paramount in the advancement of science.  They cite several examples in the history of science where new theories were rejected, resisted and ridiculed, for example, Barbara McLintock's gene jumping hypothesis, Peter Mitchell's chemiosmotic theory, and Alfred Wegener's continental drift hypothesis.  The authors go on to suggest a way that these controversial papers get a fair hearing.
To provide objective and reliable assessments of controversial research, journal editors and review panel leaders should be willing to do what it takes to "open the doors" to new and novel work.  If they close these doors, then they are exerting a form of censorship that is not especially helpful to science or to society.*
 But here lies a problem with the balance between quality and quantity.  They explain,
The issue of publishing controversial research reveals an important flaw in the idea of quality control: If a journal tries to ensure that all articles meet specified standards related to quality, then it may not publish some controversial (but good and important) studies.  One way to ensure that controversial ideas are not ignored is to publish, a larger quantity of articles with less control over quality.  Thus, the scientific community faces a dilemma of quality versus quantity.****
For those who live in fantasy land where peer review is the ideal system for deciding true science value or not there is this ominous statement from Shamoo and Resnik:
  Many factors can give unfair advantage (or disadvantages) to the authors of manuscripts.  Factors such as the author's name and institutional affiliation affect the judgments of editors and reviewers, who are more likely to give favorable reviews to well-respected authors from prestigious institutions than to unknown authors from less prestigious institutions (LaFollette 1992, Garfunkel et al. 1994).
Most journals according to the authors, use "single-blind," where authors do not know the identity of the reviewers, but the reviewers know the identity of the authors.  Some journals have attempted the "double-blinded" system where neither author nor reviewer knows each others identities.  This approach is certainly an improvement, although the results are not yet clear.  Some journals, ask the authors what people should not review their submitted article, in the hopes or eliminating bias.

Does Peer Review Have a Future In The Ever-Increasing Accumulation of Knowledge? 
"All kinds of knowledge monopolies — and positions of authority based on them — are wearing away … [and] … the professionals who have gained control of institutions of various kinds — including politics — are not going to have that kind of control anymore." Jay Rosen,
 The question that will decide everything is, will the current peer reviewed process where scientific articles can take a year or more before they published, retard progress so much that these journals will become outdated by the time they are published?  Already this trend is happening in technology journals.  The progress is rapid and unrelenting. The cutting edge trends are not found in scholarly journals, simply because they are too slow to publish.  This is precisely why the journals have to go to the internet.  They will speed the process of review.  But, they will also, change the status quo.  Shamoo and Resnik explain the problem:
Before electronic publication, researchers could rely on the reputation of the journal to help them make judgments about the quality of published material, a method still useful today.  However, as more and more electronic articles are published outside of well-established journals, it will become much more difficult to rely on journal reputation.  Also, many articles are published directly on Web pages, with no supervision by journal editors.**
Open Access Scientific Publishing
Open Access scholarly publishing is defined as publishing of all scientific papers openly on the internet accessible to all for free.  The cost of publication, would be picked up by the funders of the scientific papers and not by scholarly journal itself.  The most classic example of an open access journal is PLoS.  You can review some detailed discussion of this subject here.
" online access to peer-reviewed research (after — and sometimes before — peer review), not to research free of peer review." Steven Harnad
We believe that due to the nature of the internet, and the nature of networks, open access peer review is inevitable.  With the ever increasing pace of scientific knowledge, the weaknesses in the current peer review system, only egos and money stands in the way of this course.  The vision is even greater.  There is a massive fight between two views of the future.  The first view is that the internet will maintain the present economic structure of peer review journals but simply add the internet to it.  The second view is that the internet will change the very structure of how information is disseminated and evaluated.  Scientists, of all people, should be open to this revolution that has been produced by their efforts and discoveries.  The nature of scientific knowledge is supposed to be open and skeptical.  It is wrong to keep it closed and exclusive.

The real issue is more hidden.  Richard Poynder, a journalist who has studied this issue, has unveiled the forces behind this resistance against open access review. This is a very eloquent explanation that we feel the need to quote the author:
The argument that OA threatens peer review is most often made by scientific publishers.  They do so, argue OA advocates, not out of any genuine concern, but in the hope that by alarming people they can ward off the growing calls for research funders to introduce mandates requiring that all the research they fund is made freely available on the internet.
The Two 800 lb. Gorillas in the Room..Proquest and EBSCO Host 
Proquest and EBSCO Host are two corporate giants.  In general though, academic publishers, especially publishers of academic journals, are making great above the industry norm profits.  As of a report produced in 2000, the conclusion was that:
"...this snapshot analysis of the profits of selected large publishers of scholarly journals clearly shows that they continue to be among the most profitable companies in the periodical publishing industry.  The need to transform the system of scholarly communication remains as great as ever."
According to library of the University of Illinois, from 1996 to 2004 the cost of academic journals rose 273%! During that time, the cost of living index rose 73%.  According to this same source, in 2002, revenue for the academic journal market rose 26%.  Operating profits for Elsevier the largest publisher in science rose 25%.  Need we say any more on this subject?  Yes.
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  The price of a one year subscription of the Journal of Applied Polymer Science equals the price of new Toyota Corolla.  These price increases are driving some to demand the open access model for academic journal publishing.**

EBSCO Host is part of a corporate conglomerate named EBSCO Publishing.  This company is listed as number 196 of the top 200 privately owned companies in the United States.**

Proquest was owned by Cambridge Information Group (CIG) in 2006.  This parent company also owns R.R. Bowker, RefWorks and CIG Education Group.***  Proquest, founded by Eugene Power in the 1938, became University Microfilms International or UMI.  This collection of doctoral dissertations, became the foundation of Proquest Online Information Service in 1995.  In 2007, Proquest Information and Learning merged with CSA (Cambridge Scientific Abstracts) to from Proquest CSA.  Proquest was made part of the Digital National Security Archive, which comprises 80,000 documents on American Foreign Policy beginning from 1945 to the present.**

It appears to us that search engines like Google Scholar which are relatively new will catch up with the paid databases online.  The model is inevitable.  Younger generations are adjusted to the immediacy of Google.  Slowly, these other online databases will begin to feel that trend. This trend is part of a much larger trend affecting many industries in this emerging information age.  For now, the paid databases have the advantage, and Google seems to be totally insufficient.  Notice we said appears to be this way.  Scholarly journal articles have found Google scholar useful in some areas for the ranking of scholarly articles, specifically education, above the main other databases.***  In the end, it is about where people will go to search that matters, not which is the best database.  The one where people search will eventually become the better one. 


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