Here is one of those horror stories about how good science is severely cheapened by its unavailability to the science consuming public due to the inherent limitations of academic publishing. The author laments regarding some exciting new procedure, “It turns out that no one will have access to this method for a year or so.”
Ok, so we all have some misgivings about how scientific discourse has been traditionally structured. TOPSAN represents what we hope is a tractable approach to a more modern scientific procedure. Apparently, however, some people are thinking in creative ways that may prove a bit beyond practical. Economist Robin Hanson wrote a paper almost two decades ago outlining how the scientific process could be enhanced by using gambling. The idea is strange, but he argues convincingly that just as in insurance underwriting and market speculating, science could be enhanced by using the same techniques that are essentially used with bookmaking.
The nice thing about this approach is that it is basically a money-where-mouth-is approach which would pretty quickly rule out insincere scientific propositions. He has obviously thought seriously about possible corruption and rightly points out that, “Fortunately nature has no insiders…”
He makes an interesting point that:
“Influence in academia, as measured for example by number of papers published, is far more concentrated than in most walks of life. It seems unlikely that markets would make things worse…”
The author contemplates the difficulty involved in changing the status quo to this kind of approach. In the “Strategy” section the author wonders if some kind of reputation based game could be enough. I think so because it sounds a lot like MarketGuru.com which does exactly this and is quite successful at letting people show off how smart they are (or are not). It would be nice to see some non-traditional scientific reputation system demonstrate that peer reviewed publications aren’t necessarily the last word in scientific efficiency.
Hanson also says:
“We could do much worse than having intellectual institutions as open, flexible, diverse, and egalitarian as the stock market, with incentives as well-grounded and with estimates on important issues as unbiased and predictive.”
To which I say, let’s try to do better than the stock market!