During the past few weeks, I have placed some of my preliminary ideas about wiki academic publishing at the Protoscience wikicity and at Meatball wiki. With the creation of the Academic Publishing Wiki it is now time to begin the process of implementing a working system for academic publishing that will use the wiki interface.
This article is intended to serve as a test case for the steps involved in wiki academic publishing. There are many possible systems for wiki publishing, but for the purposes of this article I will restrict discussion to a simple three step process.
- Initial construction and preparation of an article for publication in a wiki format.
- An initial round of peer review prior to “formal publishing” in a journal.
- Formal publication of the peer-reviewed article in a wiki journal and what happens after “formal publishing”; a so-called "end stage".
This three step system for academic publishing in a wiki environment could be used to replicate existing journal practices in a wiki format. This approach to wiki publishing would have the advantage of presenting a familiar face to academicians, but would fail to take advantage of opportunities that exist in the wiki format.
A key feature of any wiki project is the development of an online community. “Talk” or “discussion” pages in a wiki can be used for community discussions and brainstorming. Community projects can function as a way to make use of the power of the wiki interface to unleash distributed intelligence and make possible types of intellectual progress that are more difficult to achieve by other means. For example, a journal that functioned in wiki format could have a community project that involved constructing an online guide to the topic area(s) covered by the journal. Such wiki features could be used as an incentive for authors to start using wiki format journals that are otherwise functionally similar to existing electronic journals that do not use a wiki format.
The true power of wiki academic publishing will come as wiki journals move away from traditional academic publishing systems towards new systems that take complete advantage of the wiki format. Such new modes for academic publishing face the hurdle of needing to be validated before working academicians will risk using them. People at the fringes of academia who are willing to take risks will be important in the initial development and validation of wiki publishing systems that fully exploit the wiki format. Also, people who are familiar with wikis and involved in the study of wiki phenomena may be most likely to adopt wiki academic publishing.
This article is being constructed in a wiki environment in order to allow other users of the Academic Publishing wikicity to be aware of progress being made in the preparation of this article. Also, during this "preliminary draft" phase, other users can comment on the developing content of the article. I have also invited others to request co-authorship of this article if they want to contribute to its construction. Such benefits of authoring an article in a community wiki environment may be off-set by the possibility of theft of intellectual ideas. Some authors who are particularly concerned about getting credit for their intellectual activity may prefer to write in a non-public environment. A good system of time-stamping text that is added to wiki databases could provide a system for establishing priority.
Many academicians work within research or lab groups where there is a free flow of ideas and it is often difficult to trace the origin of good ideas to individuals. Open publishing in a wiki format will continue to expand the ethic of community discovery beyond formal collaborations to more informal situations within online communities. Academicians will continue to find new ways to receive credit for their efforts within distributed communities. Formal acknowledgements from communities of individual contributions to community efforts can play an important role in encouraging individuals to openly share their ideas in the wiki environment.
The wide range of differences in the needs and desires of various authors should be taken as incentive for creating a system for wiki publishing that is flexible and able to accommodate the needs of different authors as they seek to publish various types of articles. Some of the issues related to the diversity in author needs that can be accommodated by wiki publishing are explored in the next section.
A distributed and flexible wiki publishing system would provide many publishing options for authors. Traditional journals often start the publishing process when a draft of an article is submitted for formal peer review. One author or a small group of authors typically write a complete article and then submit it to a traditional journal. In contrast, traditional wiki publishing often involves a community effort to construct a document by many successive edits made possible by a wiki user interface. These two ways of constructing a document can be viewed as two extremes along a continuum.
It should be possible to create wiki journals that have few differences from existing non-wiki electronic journals. By restricting who can edit a new article and by providing opportunities for interested parties to comment on- and contribute to articles that are under construction, a wide range of options become available for constructing documents that will be subjected to peer review. It should be up to each author to decide how an article will be produced and prepared for peer review. For example, one possibility would be to create a page in a wiki, place on that page a plan for an article, and let the wiki community develop an initial "brain storming" version of article. After this initial community effort, an individual author could use what was produced by the community effort as a starting place for their own work. Contributions from authors of the community effort could be acknowledged and key contributors might be invited to be co-authors of the article being prepared for peer review and formal publication in a journal. Individual journals devoted to wiki publishing could impose their own standards for style and content, and authors would be free to submit their final articles to the journals that suit their personal needs.
Many different types of articles are possible in wiki publishing, and each type may be best accommodated by a different combination of restrictions on how an article is generated. By keeping all of the steps of document preparation secret and only allowing secret peer review prior to publication, a wiki journal could replicate traditional publishing practices. An article produced in secret and subjected to secrete review could be published in a wiki environment where it would then become a target for wiki format discussion. In a wiki environment that allows derivative works, copies of the original article could be edited and modified in the traditional wiki way while the original version could be archived and protected from edits.
Why might authors involved in academic publishing choose to construct articles in a wiki environment? One advantage of using a wiki interface for article construction is that a good document history tracking system built into the wiki user interface could keep track of the contributions of multiple authors and be used to assure that all the actual authors are correctly credited as authors in proportion to their efforts. Such tracking of author contributions could be coupled to a strong cultural preference within wiki publishing for acknowledging contributions to intellectual works other than the actual authoring of articles. If the detailed history of who actually writes articles is available, then the questionable practice of listing “honorary authors” (people who do not actually write articles) could be diminished in wiki publishing. As an example of the importance of acknowledging contributions of non-authors, this article has an Acknowledgements section.
Open authoring in a wiki environment also could allow interested parties to observe the stages by which articles are constructed. One advantage of this would be for historical analysis of how ideas arise through intellectual activity. Another benefit of writing in an open environment is that it can encourage collaboration. People with useful suggestions can make comments on a project that is under development. If the original author finds those comments useful and insightful, collaboration might ensue. Additionally, an author composing an article within a wiki publishing community might have a stray question about some point of information, post that question to a journal’s community bulletin board, receive a useful reply, and simply acknowledge the help of community members in the final publication.
Conflict of interest is one problem that arises in academic publishing. Academicians often portray their efforts as objective attempts to portray or understand the world. However, it is not uncommon for the objectivity of authors to be compromised. Open authoring in a wiki environment could help establish a strong ethic for full disclosure of exactly who wrote what and why. A requirement by wiki journals that authors fully disclose sources of support and potential conflicts of interest would be in the spirit of the kind of open publishing that wikis make possible.
Three main types of articlesEdit
The flexibility made possible by wiki publishing is illustrated below for three major types of articles, primary research articles, literature reviews, and peer-reviews.
Primary literature articles in wiki publishingEdit
Some of the flexibility of wiki publishing that is relevant to primary research articles has already been mentioned above in the context of article authoring. While wiki journals could adopt the traditional system of secret peer review and restricting peer review to a pre-publishing period, additional options for open peer review are discussed below.
An argument can be made for the idea that peer-review most naturally fits with the post-publication period of an article published in wiki format. Wiki publication can be viewed as starting as soon as an article is submitted to a wiki journal and is placed on a public wiki page. The submission process can be as simple as creating a page at the wiki of a journal and the author marking it as having been submitted. Authors can then decide when to label their article as ready for peer review.
How would post-publishing peer review work? Articles could be ranked and categorized according to how much peer review they have received after having been published. Readers with no interest in reading unreviewed articles could easily avoid them. Community members who are particularly interested in a new article might take a look and decide to perform a voluntary peer review of the article. Once an article received a critical level of favorable peer reviews, a journal could mark the article as having met its standards, a stage that might be called "formal publishing". This need not mark the end of peer review. Additional reviewers might decide that the initial phase of peer review was not adequate. Also, with time, it might be discovered that there is a problem with an article, or new results might confirm what was initially reported in an article, prompting a new round of peer review months or years after initial publishing.
What are the dangers of allowing articles to be considered published before they undergo peer review? Obviously, garbage could be published and readers could waste their time discovering that they are reading garbage. However, as soon as others start to recognize problems with an article, the article could be marked as being of questionable value for the community. A journal could have a policy for removing garbage and spam following its identification by the community. Authors who submit garbage and spam-filled articles could be prevented from adding additional material to a journal. Journals may wish to form consortia that would require user registration, and users with a reputation for trying to publish spam or other useless material could be restricted from subjecting the entire consortium to additional time-wasting garbage publications. There could also be volunteer or professional article screeners who confirm that submitted articles meet the basic requirements of a journal before it is made available for peer review by an academic community.
Serious academic authors will seek to build a reputation for publishing quality material that will be well received by their peers. There is no reason why post-publication peer review would not be adequate for evaluating the quality of articles published by most academicians. Many authors may voluntarily wish to submit their articles to peer review prior to “formal publishing”, but this could be an option selectable by each wiki journal. Each wiki journal could have it own standards for peer review, allowing for flexible exploration of the range of possibilities that exist for wiki publishing.
What are the dangers of allowing alterations to articles after they are published? A normal part of traditional peer review and publishing is the correction of errors prior to publication. However, it would be easy to track the record of reports of errors in articles and their correction. Readers who willingly read an article before it is marked as having been peer reviewed will know to expect the possibility of errors. Community members who are particularly interested in the subject of an article should be willing to take upon themselves the task of reporting errors and performing peer reviews. As errors are spotted, suggestions for improvements to an article are made, or complaints issued by peer reviewers about serious flaws in an article, the author could be allowed to make corrections. The wiki system could keep a full record of such changes and a system could exist for crediting reviewers for their help in correcting errors and identifying problems in articles. Authors who submit error-filled articles for peer review could be flagged and forced to subject their articles to error correction before marking them as available for peer review.
Retractions. If serious and uncorrectable errors are found in articles, it should be possible for journals to sever their association with them or for authors to retract them. A record of such events would be a serious stain on the reputation of academicians and they would work hard to avoid it. However, honest errors would be a natural part of a community-based intellectual enterprise. The ease of marking electronic publications as containing errors might actually increase risk taking on the part of authors to speed ideas into print. Each academic community would need to maintain its own standards for the number of errors that authors would be able to publish in wiki format in articles designated as targets for peer review. Authors who are confident in their ability to produce quality articles without pre-publication peer review might decide to skip pre-publication peer review and rely entirely on post-publication peer review of their articles. There might even be wiki journals that allow authors with an established track record for producing error-free articles to skip the default pre-publication peer review process normally use by the journal. There could be point systems that tracks detected errors in articles submitted by authors and the peer review options available to authors could be set according to their established record of errors in past articles submitted for publication.
Secondary literature articles in wiki publishingEdit
With the explosion in the volume of the primary academic journal literature, literature review articles inevitably play an important role in assisting academic disciplines to sort through the ever increasing flow of information. Editorials, opinion pieces, news-and-views type articles and updated reviews  can function as aids for academicians trying to deal with the torrent of primary academic journal articles. Wiki academic publishing can accommodate "living reviews" that are updated as needed to keep up with the primary literature.
One of the central features of the wiki way is use of hypertext links. In this article, I have made use of a mixture of both standard hypertext links and more formal references. There is always the danger that hypertext links become useless or lose their original meaning with time. One approach to dealing with this problem would be "double linking" from peer-reviewed articles. The primary link could be to an active webpage, but it might be useful to also require a backup link to an archival copy of the cited webpage. The ability to update articles after formal publication could be used to assure that primary hypertext links are kept up to date.
When should peer review take place in a wiki publishing system? Anytime. Various journals can set rules for the level of peer review that is required before official publication. Some journals will decide that “official publication” is a useless distinction; a remnant of print publishing. As soon as text hits the wiki server, it is published. The whole basis of peer review before publishing arose by historical accident from the limitations of print media. When publishing was expensive, it made sense to only publish pre-approved articles. In wiki publishing, publishing is cheap and easy and pre-approval is an artificial barrier to the free expression of new ideas. Post-publishing peer review can provide the required screening of articles. Within a system where peer review follows publication, authors seeking prolonged participation in an intellectual community will have still incentive to not publish garbage.
A potential problem for open publishing is dealing with the volume of published articles. The first and most natural way of dealing with volume issues is to have a distributed system with compartmentalized specialty journals. Journals will compete to develop communities of members with common interests who will define a range of topics that they are interested in. Authors will seek their peers and gravitate towards journals where they can get useful peer review and other beneficial peer interactions.
Another strategy for the control of the volume of published articles is to set limits on the number of articles any individual can publish. For example, there could be a limit of 5 first author publications in any particular journal. This would create incentive for authors to increase the quality of their articles. It would also lead to more authors deciding to update previously published articles. There could also be rules that limit the number of articles an author can publish according to the number of quality peer reviews performed by that author. For example, every author could be required to perform at least n-1 quality peer reviews of articles by other authors in order to publish n articles as first author.
The new risk from open publishing is spam. Each journal that is involved with wiki publishing will have to develop and maintain a list of known spammers and make information about known spammers available to other journals. Many journals will require authenticated information about authors before allowing them to participate in wiki publishing. Other more open journals may only require basic user registration and have rules for blocking access to page editing is a user is identified as a spammer.
Academic journals will probably want to place special restrictions on the qualifications of reviewers. For example, before qualifying to perform peer reviews, a community member might be required to author an article that passes peer review or make significant contributions to community projects. Such restrictions on the individuals who perform the peer reviews of articles that are used by a community to judge the quality of the articles would not mean that others would be prevented from reviewing and evaluating articles for other purposes. For example, press coverage and educational outreach by journals could involve invitations to members of the press and student to publish their reviews of articles. Such reviews could play an important role in informing and educating the wider community beyond the immediate community academia. A wiki could easily accommodate distinct "tracks" for evaluation and discussion of articles (professional, press, and educational tracks).
The importance of fringesEdit
Most working academicians are locked into the existing system of conventional peer review and cannot risk exploring wiki publishing. It is not uncommon for new ideas to first flourish among fringe groups that are less committed to existing ways of doing things and which contain people who are looking for new and better ways of doing things. People at the fringes of conventional academia will disproportionately be interested in wiki publishing. At its earliest stages of development, wiki publishing should be particularly open to amateurs who seek to participate in academic pursuits. Picture a modern day Charles Darwin inventing a new domain of human knowledge or one of the world’s leading experts in development of the wiki user interface who may be a young computer programmer with no academic credentials. It would be crazy to exclude such people from peer-reviewed wiki publishing. These are the kinds of people who will be most likely to participate in wiki publishing while it is still being developed. Wiki publishing at the fringes of academia is a path towards developing and validating wiki publishing, eventually leading to a stable system that will be easy for mainstream academicians to adopt.
Tools and UtilitiesEdit
While there are advantages to constructing articles in a wiki environment, wiki interfaces such as Mediawiki currently have many limitations. For example, the lack of spelling and grammar checking and the non-intuitive text and image formatting need to be addressed in future upgrades of wiki user interfaces. Until such deficiencies in the wiki interface are removed, many authors will want to continue using conventional software such as word processors for the construction of articles. It is important that there we readily available and efficient utilities for converting documents such as word processor documents into wiki format. Some converters already exist for this purpose.
Unfortunately, there are many different wiki formats. Given the popularity of Wikipedia, a case can be made that Mediawiki has a reasonable chance for development and future upgrades. Wikia uses Mediawiki and the Academic Publishing wikicity is a place where initial experiments can begin aimed towards producing a standard for wiki publishing.
Facilitating useful peer reviewEdit
For some wiki journals, Peer review articles will be in the form of open and transparent wiki publications. For example, at the Wiki Journal, peer reviews are articles, subject to their own peer review. Making peer reviews subject to peer review will promote fair peer review; shoddy reviews will themselves be subject to review. In existing systems of secret peer review, reviewers can exercise power over what get published with no public over-sight. Some reviewers who benefit unethically form how they use secret reviews, will be reluctant to participate in an open review process.
New incentives might be needed to attract reviewers in an open publishing system. Some wiki journals might need to impose rules that force community members to write peer review articles in order to gain the right to publish their own articles. Some people might become specialists who produce good reviews and journals might even pay such people for their services. When peer reviews are in the form of published articles, credit for the effort involved can be awarded by traditional mechanisms that reward publication. For academicians, rewards for the publication of quality peer review articles can be similar as rewards for other types of peer-reviewed publications.
Rating system for peer reviewEdit
There are many possible rating systems for peer review of articles. More complex scales are possible but a basic system of negative, neutral and positive might be adequate. Under the ranking system used by Wiki Journal, two positive reviews are required for acceptance of reviewed articles for formal publication by the journal. By taking advantage of the wiki user interface, peer reviews can be open, transparent and subject to peer-review themselves. Such an open peer review process will guide wiki publication to fair and constructive peer review.
The importance of journalsEdit
Journals engaged in wiki publishing will be communities working in support of a particular type of intellectual activity. Authors will seek to find communities of like-minded scholars who can provide good peer review and a stimulating intellectual environment.
A system for citations to articles published in wiki formatEdit
Currently, various academic disciplines have their own systems for managing databases of electronically published articles. Wiki publishing needs to establish a standard for citations to wiki journal articles, other electronic sources, and the conventional print literature.
Conclusions and other problemsEdit
This article has attempted to sketch some of the new options for academic publishing that are made possible when authors and reviewers work within a wiki community. During the past 10 years, the wiki interface for web pages has been applied to tasks that call for open and unstructured online collaboration. Academic publishing is a highly structured and regulated social process in its traditional form. There is a large cultural momentum working against migration of academicians from traditional publishing systems to new systems. During the last decade, electronic academic publishing has generally replicated the modes of operation that are found in print publishing.
In the case of Wikipedia, conventional encyclopedists did not suddenly embrace wiki technology and start participating in the construction of an online encyclopedia. Similarly, it cannot be expected that academicians who currently use conventional publishing systems should suddenly shift to wiki publishing. Young intellectuals and others at the fringes of conventional academic publishing will be the pioneers of wiki academic publishing. The main argument put forth in this article is the idea that if wiki academic publishing is to succeed, a system needs to be established that is flexible enough to adapt to the needs of those pioneers who will be the first who are willing to enter into this new field.
A central problem for wiki academic publishing that has been only tangentially approached in this article is how it will be possible to attract and conglomerate functioning peer review communities from the pool of people who are likely to be willing to risk using a wiki academic publishing system. I have suggested that the likely participants are scattered at the fringes of the conventional academic publishing community. How can such rare and distributed individuals be brought together in sufficient numbers to initiate a peer-reviewed wiki publishing community?
One possibility it to start with a new wiki journal that is designed to serve a community that is already familiar with wiki phenomena. Will such individuals be likely to start building a wiki academic publishing community? The Wiki Journal can test this possibility.
Thanks to Owen Lloyd for founding the Academic Publishing wikicity and putting an end to dithering.
Thanks to User:Garrett for "proof reading".
- ^ All local hypertext links are to pages at the Academic Publishing Wiki. This article originally cited webpage versions of July 1-11, 2005.
- ^ See particularly the page about Wiki Science Publication (http://www.usemod.com/cgi-bin/mb.pl?WikiSciencePublication).
- ^ The URL for the Academic Publishing Wiki is http://academia.wikicities.com.
- ^ A list of previous peer review systems for other wikis. At this time (July 9, 2005) four peer review systems were listed: Nupedia, Wikinews, Wikipedia peer review and a new article validation proposal for WikiMedia projects.
- ^ This guide to wikis is an example of a community project for a wiki format journal.
- ^ A group of wiki researchers has been identified by the Wikimedia Research Network.
- ^ There are several existing efforts to develop systems for updated review articles, for example, Living Reviews.
- ^ The Internet Archive could be used for backup links to archived copies of webpages. Also, see Self archiving and links to www.eprints.org. It would also be useful of authors could link directly to specific “history pages” (old versions of pages) in wikis.
- ^ For an outline of how peer review articles can be treated as articles that are themselves subject to peer review, see the Wiki Journal:Instructions for reviewers. All citations to the Wiki Journal are to the new wiki format peer-reviewed journal at the Academic Publishing Wiki.
- ^ A three rating (positive, neutral, negative) peer review system is used by the Wiki Journal. See: Wiki Journal instructions for reviewers.
- ^ An example of a data base for electronic publications is the PubMed Central database if the U.S.A. National Center for Biotechnology Information (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).