Reinventing Scientific Journals: a Paradigm Shift

Author: Matheus Pereira Lobo, Federal University of Tocantins, Avenida Paraguai, Araguaína, Tocantins, Brazil

The aim of this work is to present an alternative model for the publication of scientific articles. The burning issue in our scientific community is how can we develop faster and more inclusive science (1). The traditional journal system involves unnecessary delays in the publication process. Technology—and society by extension—would definitely benefit if science progresses faster. We live in an age of information revolution, which inevitably entails sloppy work and retractions. Fortunately, natural/artificial Darwinian selection of scientific results will sort it out over decades (2). Paywall journals harm the idea of open science in many ways. Many open access journals charge abusive article processing charges (APCs), which hamper the advance of science in developing countries. Overlay journals are a great and faster alternative for free open science. Microarticles hugely reduce the bureaucracy of publishing scientific results. This allows any citizen to build her/his own overlay journal (3), which definitely weakens paywall and APC businesses. Evidently, publishing microarticles should be supported by funding agencies and their policies. Timothy Gowers, a leading mathematician and creator of the ingenious Polymath Project and Fields Medalist, has recently launched Discrete Analysis, an overlay journal based on arXiv (4). Diamond Open Science provides a free publishing system both for authors and for readers (5). Microarticles are short versions of scientific articles without introduction and context. Their most important feature is that they can be updated after publication (6). We believe that microarticle publishing will foster the culture of open science culture and invite peers to improve the articles. Microarticles are faster to read, review, and publish (7). Their major features include the following:

  • Introduction and context of research are optional;

  • Each argument is presented in a single numbered item;

  • Each item can be read (more or less) independently;

  • Microarticle can present one stage of research, a draft, null or a single result, a conjecture, an open question, an original insight/idea, or microresearch;

  • In the context of open science, there is no limit on the number of authors in a microarticle;

  • Microarticle can be updated (its content and authors) at any time after publication;

  • Microarticle is in consonance with citizen science, that is, anyone can contribute and co-author any article;

  • Reviewing and peer-reviewing are open to any citizen;

  • All reviewers are invited to co-author the article as long as they provide at least a single contribution to the text;

  • Research becomes open and inclusive, as every citizen interested in doing science can become an actual scientist.

The advantages of publishing microarticles include:

  • Reviewers can become co-authors even with a small contribution.

  • More citizens can (rapidly) become scientists and engage themselves in new discoveries, since one argument that is accepted by the lead author to be added to the paper is eligible for co-authoring. Non-specialists don’t need to see the whole picture of research. Instead, they can contribute with small pieces of knowledge, sometimes mistakenly ignored by the main research team.

Microarticles work exceptionally well in disciplines like mathematics and physics, where small building blocks are relatively easy to extract and publish independently. They are probably not as applicable in social sciences and humanities. In these disciplines, the argument and the text itself are central. However, only minimal yet very important changes would be needed on the sentence level for these disciplines to take the advantage of microarticle format.

Regarding co-authoring, we propose that any contribution approved by the lead author qualifies as authorship. However, only the authors who did the major part of the research can be fully recognized and awarded. They can be singled out in special sections at the end (or at the beginning) of the paper, such as “Major authors”, while the rest could be mentioned in sections such as “Minor co-authors.” In addition, any contribution from the reviewers that is worth adding to the text qualifies for their inclusion as co-authors. If necessary, they can also be included in a special section like “Reviewer’s co-authorship.” We believe this could be a great incentive for reviewers. According to our definition, microarticles are scientific articles that follow the guidelines of a more inclusive and open approach. We believe there is no conflict of interest in publishing microarticles with open co-authorship (leading author, peers, citizens, peer-reviewers, citizen reviewers) as long as it accompanies the ethical procedures established by a healthy scientific society. In summary, a revolutionary scientific journal should incorporate more dynamical and collaborative articles with unlimited number of updates and collaborators.

Key words

publishing system, open access, microarticles


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