I was about to post this on ResearchGate and then thought, "it's relevant to my blog. Why don't I post it here!?"
I have a few frustrations with the academic peer review and publication process, but nothing that the current capabilities of the internet can't totally revolutionize:
(1) My first frustration is with the lack of availability of academic literature. Even as a graduate student with access to institutional subscriptions to many journals, I can't get access to some articles. Other articles I cannot get in digital form (which means I cannot annotate them using my favorite tools). On the other hand, if I were not affiliated with a university, I would have access to almost **NO** peer reviewed academic literature, unless I'm willing to pay something like $25 per article I find to be of interest. I think the general public should have better access to academic literature. For instance, if my physician recommends a treatment, I may want to know the research behind it, and I may be plenty educated to understand that literature. If I'm a blogger, I may want to critique research more easily - so I want to read about it from its original source. If I'm an entrepreneur, I may want to learn about new technology to use and commercialize, or about concepts I can use to invent new technology!
Opening up academic literature will force research to be more transparent and rigorous, and will help the public be smarter and more educated (including those who are already well-educated - they get to be smarter outside of their own fields and specialties with a lower cost barrier). As a society, we need to stop relying so much on "experts". Experts should be able to point me in the right direction in their area of expertise, but I shouldn't just buy their arguments and logic unless I inspect the merits thereof directly. Simply "trusting" their expertise is a logical fallacy and a form of intellectual laziness that I see every day in casual conversation, in the media, and even in academic circles. Our view of "experts" needs to change. Putting them on a pedestal promotes an anti-intellectual society, which hurts the experts in the long-run.
Now, one may argue: the literature is available to the public, but everything must come at a price; who's going to pay for it? My response to that would be that there is plenty of free content online whose owners have no problems monetizing without making the public pay. We don't have to pay to read the Huffington Post, but it has done very well for itself, has it not? So, I'm highly doubtful that a little bit of thinking outside the box can't lead to successful monetization of academic content: job postings can be a way to monetize, as well as highly-directed book sales (targeted according to the user's search or reading history), and sales of lab supplies, seminars, paid courses, etc (also highly targeted according to the user's profile, behavior, and search).
(2) My second frustration is not really a frustration, but more of a feeling of: "couldn't this be so much better?" It's the present reality that a publication is static - and I think that's suboptimal. You work and work and work, in isolation and in secret (and it's difficult to argue this leads to the best and most productive results), and then all of a sudden, you reveal your work to the academic world. What if there were a different way to post your research, but more in real-time, and not only as "text", but also in more varied rich data structures, that others can interact with and comment on in "real-time" (in addition to the text). Imagine the following. You can link the actual papers you have read or will read and plan to reference in the intro/background sections. Others can help you understand these papers and can suggest other papers to read. You can submit the method steps in a bit more quantitative detail and they can be stored in relatable computer-readable data structures. For example, if you use a particular material, I should be able to click on that method step and find other research using the same material, etc. If you've incubated something for a particular amount of time, I can see the spread among other researchers' methods: how long did they incubate it for? And so on. You can actually post your results as data that are accessible through different tools to make it easier for other researchers to visualize these data. Most importantly, peers can comment, make suggestions, and review, not only after you've submitted your work, but as you progress throughout the process.
Now, someone may be concerned about people stealing ideas and such. Firstly, I think if everyone is using this kind of system, things will just be figured out faster. Researchers will converge to solutions faster, but there'll be sufficient granularity to innovate without stepping on anyone's toes. Secondly, if everyone is on the same playing field and has access to the same information, there's no incentive to cheat - if you cheat, you can be cheated as well. More importantly, if everything is posted more or less in real-time, it'd be easy to see who did what "first". People can call others out on such things (Wikipedia-style), and there can even be official enforceable rules. Regardless, no one wants to just copy - it doesn't help your career! You want to innovate: so, before you begin, you will search to see if others did it already, and you'll try to supplement their work or you'll work on something else. Doing otherwise would defeat your own purpose.
This kind of system would just prevent people reinventing the wheel, which means faster progress. Additionally, more transparency means a more honest academic community, and a better society.
Anyway, my personal belief is that this type of thing is inevitable. I would love to be involved somehow in the process of helping it along and helping it come about. In fact, if there's sufficient interest, I would actually consider working on it just a little bit down the line. One thing is for sure, the present publishers will not be so amenable to changing their entire business model unless they absolutely need to, but they would absolutely need to once there's a tool out there that researchers and academics are using frequently and widely.
Now, this group planning the Open Science Summit has the right idea! I supported their Kickstarter campaign and was disappointed to find out they couldn't raise the support they needed.
So, what do others think? I'd love to hear opinions, thoughts, objections, complaints, ideas, etc.