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Page history last edited by Richard Karpinski 12 years, 4 months ago


TheySaid - How to learn what's in expensive academic journals


We have already many open source academic journals such as the Public Library of Science.. This is where original research is published so scientists around the world, and sometimes even in outer space, can learn what has been discovered lately. But many academic journals still print on paper and charge high prices for individual subscribers and very very high prices for libraries. This makes those journals unavailable to third world scientists and other people without the support of wealthy companies. Copyright interferes with open access, but the right approach avoids that problem entirely. Ideas are not copyrighted, only the words used to express them.


The articles in such journals are tightly written. It often takes half an hour or more PER PAGE to read an article carefully. Even textbooks, while designed for students to learn from, are still hard to read and often dull, besides. But there is a better way. One system I like is Compendium. It focuses on the questions being asked. Any answer must link directly to the question it answers. Of course there are often many competing answers to a single question, and each of them can be supported or challenged by arguments for and against them. The general class of such systems, including IBIS, the Issue Based Information System, and QuestMap, another commercial product no longer sold, is called Dialogue Mapping and is in turn supported by a book of that name by Jeff Conklin.


If some students, enthusiasts, and professional but poor scientists were to create dialog maps from the best journal articles, they could become articles in a wiki. Perhaps people would contribute their work along these lines in just the way that people contribute to Wikipedia. Of course, these are original research which is not supposed to show up in Wikipedia. Instead, this is the way scientists tell each other what they figured out, and why the other guy's experiments are silly and wrong. Scientists are supposed to fight with each other, though it must be admitted that sometimes it seems more like a teenage food fight than we might like.


Dialog Mapping lets the multiple viewpoints coexist in a single document. It even allows for alternative forms of the questions which might thereby elicit better answers than the original questions. "That is not the right question to ask! Instead, ask ...." And you don't even write the words, you just insert the alternative question with its own set of linked answers. This small amount of structure lets the questions form a natural index into the detailed dialog. You can find the part you want quite quickly. That is, if you like, this gives you an efficient way to ignore the parts you don't care about.


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