The Seeds of Science Manifesto
Author: Roger's Bacon
Forgive us the self-promotion, but we wanted to share the SoS manifesto so that our substack readers have a better idea of what Seeds of Science is about and why we believe it has the potential to disrupt the scientific publishing industry. We also invite all readers to join us as “gardeners” (reviewers)—all are welcome and participation is entirely voluntary, we send you submitted articles and you can choose to vote/comment or abstain without notification. We would be very excited to have anyone with a background in neuroscience join us as we are currently reviewing an article entitled, “Perspective: Focused-Ultrasound Guided Neuropeptide Delivery as a Novel Therapeutic Approach in Psychiatry”. You can learn more on our Gardeners page and can register here.
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 (fucked up or fundamentally broken 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 speculative and non-traditional scientific writing.
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.
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. Beyond 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.).
These tweets 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.
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 the rest. Our hope is that both 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, all articles receive DOIs and are searchable in major academic databases.
How Does Peer Review Work?
Peer review is community-based voting and commenting by our diverse network of reviewers (“Gardeners”) from across science (note: voting is entirely at will—gardeners ). 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 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 pending further consultation. Another unique feature of Seeds of Science is that comments from gardeners which usefully critique or extend the ideas in the article are published along with the main text.
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 contrast 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)
1. Lack of speculation
We believe speculation is an important scientific activity that is disincentivized and discouraged in our overly competitive “publish or perish” academic culture (heaven forbid you say something that seems silly or eventually gets proven wrong—what a black mark on your record!). Seeds of Science hopes to address the “speculation gap” by providing a forum for scientists to publish and receive credit for thoughtful speculation.
2. Overly cumbersome formatting and submission requirements
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 2 months.
3. Peer review is a crapshoot
“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” (the answer is no obviously.)
4. Journals are too hierarchical, lack of diversity in styles and formats
The following passage from Krpan (2020) discusses two other major issues that we hope to address. These issues are raised here in the context of modern psychology but they are 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).”
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 prestige hierarchy 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, we hope that the goals, methods, and norms of SoS will evolve in an organic manner with inputs from the community.
This passages also raises another important issue: the norms and conventions of academic writing and peer review represent a specific epistemology. Therefore the way we publish scientific work not only constrains how we write and communicate, but also how we think. To put it 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.
See “Research Papers Used to Have Style. What Happened?” by SoS co-founder Roger’s Bacon for further thoughts on this theme.
5. Scientific papers are generally boring and poorly written
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 terribly written. 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.
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—you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.