Science is amazing stuff. In the past few months science has done things like find the Higgs Boson, create stem cell based tissue and land a rover on that red planet 350 million miles next door. All of these accomplishments had their humble beginnings in a lab that disseminated their findings to the scientific community though a paper. Since the 18th century, scientific journal publications have been the medium through which science was shared with the community. It also helped scientists share their results as it guaranteed that their contributions would be noted in the community. Unfortunately, the system is now geared towards rewarding high profile publications regardless of the soundness of the science. This has led to a lot of rushed conclusions and fabricated data. The New York Times reports that scientific retractions are at their highest level since the metric was being recorded[i]. Nature magazine has seen a 10-fold increase in retractions in the past decade despite only publishing 44% more material.
Needless to say, this is bad for science. At the root of this problem is the lack of adequate scientific discussion surrounding these published papers. Right now the only way to engage in these discussions is to attend conferences and talk directly with scientists who present their work. Naturally these discussions are limited to conference attendees and the fruits of those discussions are not shared with the broader scientific community. A platform that would allow scientists to start discussions on papers they've invested time into reading would yield constructive discussions and provide a healthy flow of ideas between researchers. Imagine reading a paper, finding anomalies and being able to post those anomalies on a public forum. This would provide the author a chance to explain her experiment and it would give other readers a chance to chime in and share their experiences.
Discussions like these would provide authors the ability to elaborate on their ideas and answer questions that other scientists have. In addition, having a unified scientific community discussing papers would create a sense of accountability as an inaccurate paper would be viewed poorly by the community, thereby augmenting the peer review process in selecting for accurate and reproducible science. At the end of the day science thrives in the light of healthy discussions and by providing a platform for that we can help researchers generate better science. Today it was Mars but tomorrow is still up for discussion.
Adnan is a co-founder of Plasmyd.com