Reliable novelty: New should not trump true

by Björn Brembs

Although a case can be made for rewarding scientists for risky, novel science rather than for incremental, reliable science, novelty without reliability ceases to be science. The currently available evidence suggests that the most prestigious journals are no better at detecting unreliable science than other journals. In fact, some of the most convincing studies show a negative correlation, with the most prestigious journals publishing the least reliable science. With the credibility of science increasingly under siege, how much longer can we afford to reward novelty at the expense of reliability? Here, I argue for replacing the legacy journals with a modern information infrastructure that is governed by scholars. This infrastructure would allow renewed focus on scientific reliability, with improved sort, filter, and discovery functionalities, at massive cost savings. If these savings were invested in additional infrastructure for research data and scientific code and/or software, scientific reliability would receive additional support, and funding woes—for, e.g., biological databases—would be a concern of the past.

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