Luis von Ahn (the father of human computation and creator of smart ideas such as reCAPTCHA) has a provocative post in which he contrasts research with the practice of writing academic papers. Spending time writing papers, he argues, fosters redundancy, produces an imbalance between original research and communication effort, and crystallizes research output.
Even worse, it creates spam:
Given the number of people working in computer science and the fact that publishing papers is considered the goal of our work, there is an insane number of papers written every year, the vast majority of which contribute very little (or not at all) to our collective knowledge. This is basically spam. In fact, for many papers (including some of my own), the actual idea of the paper could be stated in one paragraph, but somehow people manage to write 10 pages of it.
Can a combination of a wiki, karma, and a voting method like reddit or digg substitute the current system of academic publication?
One might ask: is this realistically ever going to happen? It seems to me that the missing link between traditional scholarly communication and what von Ahn refers to as “academic publication 2.0″ is a robust system for producing, tracking and consuming authority and reputation.
Industry has solved this problem for different forms of human interaction in a variety of ways. No one has been able to find an adequate solution for scientific communication yet. Is this the reason why we spend our time writing papers instead of single paragraphs with brilliant ideas?
[jumping brain, cc-image courtesy of Emilio Garcia]