A system of credit and funding for non-Scientific Paper artifacts should be artifact-type agnostic

If you buy that The way to get around journals is to focus on non-paper artifacts, it raises the question “ok, what should we focus on?” I want to argue that instead of focusing on any single alternative artifact like datasets or videos, the real trick is to make a system that is as agnostic to the type of artifact as possible.

A type-agnostic system would prevent siloization. My hunch is that some of the most interesting work happens when you have ideas jumping between different types of artifacts: a blog post inspires the creation of a dataset which is analyzed in a Jupiter notebook that leads to a CAD drawing of a tool that is then integrated into a protocol.

A type-agnostic system could encourage (or at least not suppress) people creating and experimenting with new types of artifacts. If an artifact’s form no longer matters, you could imagine people feeling free to create the exact right artifact to transmit a given piece of work. Of course, it’s not all upside — the norms around Scientific Papers make them easy to read and skim and lower the mental overhead of creating them. Luckily a type-agnostic system does not rule out more vanilla papers, it just won’t be optimized for them the way the current system is.

More speculatively, a type-agnostic system could reward more illegible work. The valuable work that goes into expanding human knowledge and capability and the legible work definitely don’t have a 1:1 mapping. Things like workshops, long conversations and whiteboard sessions, inspiring demos, proofs of concept and thought experiments can all be extremely generative but are all fairly illegible (maybe with an attempt at legibility through proceedings or acknowledgements). Tacit Knowledge is obscenely important to the scientific enterprise. If the type-agnostic system allowed you to gesture at anything, it could conceivably allow you to gesture at something that didn’t produce a legible artifact.

One way this hypothesis could be totally wrong is if the best move is to instead have a different system specialized for each type of artifact. Specialization is powerful and you see general systems fail to be good at anything over and over.

One of the powerful things about the Scientific Paper system is that it makes credit and money relatively fungible: respect and money flows to high h-indexes, citations, and first authorships regardless of the discipline. A type-agnostic system could hopefully replicate this in a way that a federated group of specialized systems could not.

Of course, a big question is “how do you make a type-agnostic system?” It’s incredibly hard to make general systems. All the standard tools people use (Zotero, Google Scholar, Scirate, etc.) are heavily geared towards papers and most stabs at alternatives are built specifically for a certain kind of artifact (Protocols dot io, Journal of visualized experiments, Google Dataset Search). My hunch is that A system of credit and funding for non-paper artifacts could be a trust network.


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