One of the benefits of new media is the ability to share ideas before they’re fully baked. Nobody decides if my ideas are worthy of publication.
It used to be that ideas weren’t released until they were done. Traditional publishing was about the finished product. Publication was a hard stop.
And for generations, what was released into the world was limited by the number of editors, journals, and medical library shelf space.
Now we have unlimited shelf-space and our thinking is no longer limited to journals. But medicine is stuck sharing ideas as if we still live in a world of scarcity. And 20 years into the information age, the hard stop of journal publication remains the core vehicle for the dissemination of medical ideas.
Real ideas are far less often shared until they’re done.
We must evolve to see the sharing and collaborative development of ideas as part of a dynamic process. A type of social peer-review should begin the moment an idea is spawned. But this doesn’t happen. Beyond the hyper-local level, dialog occurs at best only after the equivalent of an abstract is created. And even then it’s in a hotel ballroom during a once-a-year collection of loosely connected doctors.
The public sharing of pre-formed ideas and traditional publishing are not mutually exclusive, of course. Journals will remain a critical means of sharing polished, hard-stop end points.
If I were King of the Forest, I would encourage the liberal use of less formal publishing and socialization that allow for the exchange of pre-formed ideas. I would create incentives for academics to seed the world in ways that draw collaborative input long before they ever reach ‘publication.’
This might fulfill Abraham Flexner’s mantra that we ‘think much, publish little.’ Or if he were he today he might say, ‘connect more, publish little.’
Printing plates from an old printing press. Taken in the print shop at the Cambridge Museum of Technology. Via Tom Garnett on Flickr.