Scientific Utopia: I. Opening Scientific Communication


Publication: 2013-08-02


Existing norms for scientific communication are rooted in anachronistic practices of bygone eras making them needlessly inefficient. We outline a path that moves away from the existing model of scientific communication to improve the efficiency in meeting the purpose of public science—knowledge accumulation. We call for six changes: (a) full embrace of digital communication; (b) open access to all published research; (c) disentangling publication from evaluation; (d) breaking the "one article, one journal" model with a grading system for evaluation and diversified dissemination outlets; (e) publishing peer review; and (f) allowing open, continuous peer review. We address conceptual and practical barriers to change and provide examples showing how the suggested practices are being used already. The critical barriers to change are not technical or financial; they are social. Although scientists guard the status quo, they also have the power to change it.

In this article, we describe changes to scientific communication practices. The changes are cumulative as steps away from the existing reality. We titled this article "Scientific Utopia" in recognition that we present an idealized view. The ideas illustrate inefficiencies in the present, and point toward possibilities for improving on those inefficiencies. Although an ideal state is not attainable, it can be the basis for of improving current reality. Our purpose is to provide a practical template for improving the current model. We argue that the barriers to these improvements are not technical or financial; they are social. The barriers to change are a combination of inertia, uncertainty about alternative publication models, and the existence of groups invested in the inefficiencies of the present system. Our ultimate goal is to improve research efficiency by bringing scientific communication practices closer to scientific values.


Name:Owen Ambur


Name:Brian A. Nosek




  • Yoav Bar-AnanCo-Author

  • ScientistsScientists are intimately familiar with the modal model of scientific communication—publishing articles in scientific journals. Here, we summarize the key features of that model to set the stage for potential improvements.

  • ReviewersThe authors have no financial interests concerning the content of this article. Thanks to Mark Brandt, Jamie DeCoster, Yarrow Dunham, Frank Farach, Mike Frank, Carlee Beth Hawkins, Ravi Iyer, Calvin Lai, Matt Motyl, N. Sriram, and Jelte Wicherts for helpful feedback.

  • Mark BrandtReviewer

  • Jamie DeCosterReviewer

  • Yarrow Dunham,Reviewer

  • Frank FarachReviewer

  • Mike FrankReviewer

  • Carlee Beth HawkinsReviewer

  • Ravi IyerReviewer

  • Calvin LaiReviewer

  • Matt MotylReviewer

  • N. SriramReviewer

  • Jelte WichertsReviewer