Announcing Seeds of Science: a New Scientific Journal and Community
Most people who have had significant experience with academic scientific publishing feel that there are many aspects of it which are… let’s say suboptimal (“broken” and “fucked up” might also come to mind). It is probably an issue when scientists are tweeting things like this:
Seeds of Science (ISSN: 2768-1254) is a new scientific journal and community that aims to address some of the issues in the publishing landscape by providing a unique peer-reviewed platform for non-traditional scientific writing (full disclosure - I am a co-founder).
More broadly, Seeds of Science is an experiment in publishing and community building that hopes to find some initial answers to the following questions:
Can we create new organizations that encourage creativity and diversity of thought in the sciences?
How many new ideas never see the light of day or receive the attention they deserve because of our current scientific publishing system?
Can people outside of traditional academic science (or at the lower levels of it) make valuable contributions if given the proper platform and support?
What follows is a quick introduction to our model and a short discussion of how it attempts to address a few of the problems in scientific publishing. Alternatively, you can just visit the website to read more - TheSeedsofScience.org.
If you at all believe in what Seeds of Science is trying to do, please consider supporting us by becoming an author or a “Gardener” (see below) or simply sharing the journal/website on social media (Twitter: @science_seeds). We would love to hear feedback on our model and are happy to answer any questions - email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or just write in the comments section of this article.
Our Model in Brief
Ultimately, Seeds of Science has one criterion - does the article contain original ideas that have the potential to advance science in any way? We believe it is important to remain as open-minded as possible about what constitutes a valuable scientific contribution - it could be a speculation, an idea for an experiment or approach, a novel observation, a thought-provoking question and analysis, the noting of an under-appreciated problem, or an unorthodox research study. If you can make a clear and convincing case (in less than 2500 words) for how your ideas could advance science in some way (either directly or very indirectly), then you have a good shot at getting published. Other than that, there are virtually no requirements on content or style - articles (or “Seeds of Science” as we call them) can be from any scientific discipline (including metascience, science ethics, and science education) and can be written in non-traditional formats for scientific articles (e.g. narratives, dialogues, etc.). Citations are encouraged, but not required, and the same goes for humor and poetic license.
This random tweet provides a useful way of thinking about the philosophy and aims of Seeds of Science (and gets bonus points for allowing us to continue the plant metaphor).
Seeds of Science wants to make it easier to convert those '“moments of forest observation” into papers (not literal papers though, we are fully digital ;).
(And if you were wondering, yes we know the whole plant metaphor thing is kind of cheesy, but whatever we are just going to lean into it anyways - science doesn’t have to be so serious all the time.)
In order to facilitate the conversion of Big Ideas into articles, the publication process is designed to be as easy and as quick as possible - authors can submit a simple word document and we will take care of formatting and typesetting after the article is accepted. Our hope is that writing and reading a Seeds of Science article will be a much easier and more enjoyable process than is typical for the vast majority of scientific papers. Although our “Seeds” may be different in content and style than a typical scientific paper, it should be noted that all articles receive DOIs and are searchable in major academic databases. Please see our two example articles (both of which have been posted on this substack) to get a better sense of our format and what an article will look like upon publication (note: by no means do these articles represent the diversity of content and formats that we hope to publish).
How Does Peer Review Work?
Peer review is crowdsourced yes/no voting and commenting (optional) by our diverse network of reviewers (“Gardeners”) from across science (note: voting is entirely at will - gardeners can ignore any article for any reason. You are not committing to anything by signing up to be a gardener). Our peer review isn't a fully objective or systematic process (as if that was possible), and unlike other journals, we aren't going to act like it is. If a significant majority of Gardeners vote to accept your Seed then it is almost certain we will publish it. If slightly over 50% vote to accept your Seed, but a few commenters raise serious objections or only a small percentage of Gardeners decide to vote (perhaps because the paper isn’t that interesting) then we may issue a rejection. The converse is possible as well - if a Seed receives under 50% of the vote but generates some very positive comments then we may opt to publish it.
We certainly expect our review process to evolve as Seeds of Science grows (heh), but we believe it is important to start with a “flatter”, more democratic procedure in order to serve as a counterbalance to the highly hierarchical nature of academic publishing and modern science in general (see below).
What Problems Does Seeds of Science Address? (in no particular order)
We believe that speculation is an essential scientific activity which is overly disincentivized and discouraged in our current “publish or perish” academic culture. Seeds of Science hopes to address the “speculation gap” by providing a forum for scientists to publish and receive credit for useful speculation.
The publication process at Seeds of Science is designed to be as quick and as easy as possible. Our goal is to have the turnaround time from submission to publication take less than a month.
“Analysing data from 4,000 social science grant proposals and 15,000 reviews, this paper illustrates how the peer-review scores assigned by different reviewers have only low levels of consistency (a correlation between reviewer scores of only 0.2)”
From “Are peer-reviews of grant proposals reliable? An analysis of Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funding applications” (obviously the answer is no)
Given how little the experts in a field seem to agree on the quality or potential impact of an article/proposal, it seems like trying a different approach to peer review is worth a shot.
4. and 5.
The following passage from Krpan (2020) discusses two other major issues that we hope to address (full disclosure - Dr. Dario Krpan, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the London School of Economics is also a co-founder). The issues are discussed in the context of modern psychology but they should be broadly applicable across the sciences.
“For example, it has been acknowledged that APA style, on which psychologists widely rely when writing psychological sources of knowledge, is not just a set of explicit guidelines for presenting information (Budge & Katz, 1995; Madigan, Johnson, & Linton, 1995). In fact, APA style is itself an epistemology that enforces certain values and beliefs regarding psychology as a discipline and reflects its conventions. Moreover, the peer-review process is also guided by various biases and epistemological beliefs of the reviewers and may therefore propel research trajectories that are in line with these biases and beliefs (Blackburn & Hakel, 2006; Marsh, Jayasinghe, & Bond, 2008; Pier et al., 2018; Simon & Fyfe, 1994; Suls & Martin, 2009). Indeed, if psychology generally functions as other sciences, then it may be dominated by a group of highly influential psychological scientists who propel their own ideas and ideas of their collaborators but make it more difficult for other opposing or different ideas to enter the field, either directly or indirectly, by creating conventions that are unfavorable to such ideas (Azoulay, Fons-Rosen, & Graff Zivin, 2019). This empirically supported premise is famously known as Planck’s Principle (Hull, Tessner, & Diamond, 1978).”
(4) Modern science is incredibly hierarchical in nearly every aspect of its organization and practice, including publishing. Each journal is itself a hierarchy in which a small number of editors and reviewers have most of the power, and then among journals there is a hierarchy of prestige that causes intense competition for publication in the top few journals. To us, this all seems suboptimal. Seeds of Science aims to be anti-hierarchical in its review procedure and overall philosophy. As the number of Gardeners grows (heh), we hope that the goals, methods, and norms of SoS will evolve in an organic manner with inputs from the whole community.
(5) The norms and conventions of academic writing and peer review represent a specific epistemology and psychology; in other words, the way we publish scientific work not only constrains how we write and communicate, but also how we think. To put it even more simply:
Lack of diversity in formats, styles, and review processes = Lack of diversity in thinking
Seeds of Science views it as part of its mission to encourage writing diversity in the sciences. We are committed to working with talented authors throughout the writing process in order to facilitate experimentation with new formats and styles.
The lack of style diversity wouldn’t be such a huge problem if the style was actually good, but most scientific papers are painfully boring and are terrible at plainly communicating their contents. Our goal is to make each of our papers as clear and as pleasant to read as possible (a little humor and playfulness can go a long way). This might seem like a superficial goal, but we believe that making the writing and reading of scientific articles just a little bit more fun is one of the most important things we can do.
I’ve grown convinced that the pervasiveness of bad writing is a major problem in science. It requires a lot of researchers’ precious time and energy. It keeps the public out, including people who disseminate knowledge, such as teachers and journalists, and those who take decisions about scientific matters, such as politicians and business leaders. It discourages wannabe scientists. In short, it makes science harder than it needs to be.
As I said above, if you at all believe in what Seeds of Science is trying to do, please consider supporting us by becoming an author or a Gardener or simply sharing the journal/website on social media (Twitter: @science_seeds). We would love to hear feedback on our model and are happy to answer any questions you might have - email us at email@example.com or just write in the comments section of this article.