Scholarly debate seeking the truth of anthropogenic climate change research
April 26, 2013
There is currently a void of discussion around scientific articles. Most articles are read only by other researchers in the field, but the information still impacts the public. This need is greatest in the anthropogenic climate change debate, as the political and economic impacts are greatest and confusion surrounds the issue. Many climate change reports are acted upon by companies and governments without discussion through the public. By bringing the focus of the discussion to the research being done, the public can be educated, policy makers can be informed, and everyone can act according to the data. Sapere Aude is latin for “have courage to use your own reason.” Healthy scepticism and reaching conclusions for one’s self are the central philosophies and principles that Sapere Aude is built upon. The proposed solution is to create a website to both display articles and provide a space for community discussion, moderated by the community. The website will be financed by companies and organizations with the greatest vested interest in the truth of the global warming debate. These include oil and chemical companies, and environmental organizations. This approach can be expanded to other controversial fields like the social sciences, politics, nutrition, anthropology, economics, and education. The logical next step after global warming is nutrition due to the high public impact and general lack of a scientific truth.
The questions being asked by scientists today are often too large to be solved by independent researchers. Similarly, the results of current research are often used to make decisions that impact many people. Collaboration in the scientific field and inclusion of the public in scientific discussion would be a benefit to all. The climate change debate is the area with the most financial and social need to find the truth in all the research being done. Global warming mitigation policies, regulations, and products are expensive and all are based on publicly overlooked research articles and institutional reports. Citizens, companies, institutions, and governments would benefit from a more open discussion centered around the research being published.
Currently, research is published in articles in journals. Most of these papers will gather a few citations when other researchers reference the paper. Some will make headlines and be translated into plain english from the technical language they were written in. In this case, the results of a test are interpreted by many different people(data collector, paper writer, journal publisher, news outlet), all of whom are subject to bias. There are many levels of technicality among published research results. The level of technicality from most to least is: research journals, review articles, tech blogs, tech magazines like scientific american, and general magazines and newspapers.
Those that make headlines generate excitement and intrigue among the commenters while people freely discuss the implications and the scientific method used. A good example of this is when scientists at CERN thought they saw particles travel faster than the speed of light, and turned over their evidence for public scrutiny after they could not find an error in their measurements. Members of the scientific community and members of the public engaged in many discussions on public forums, comment sections, and offline.
To get a better understanding of the academic environment I asked some researchers, graduate students, and undergraduate students how they find and discuss research. First, not many people read research journals outside of their field - articles are too dense. This applies to some fields more than others. Other people have a casual interest in fields that can impact their life, like nutritions and health. Most look for papers on Google Scholar, university collections, or through journals they already know due to their establishment in their field. When they want to discuss a paper, they often only discuss it within their research group. If they want to discuss the paper with the author they may have to go through their professor. Discussing current research with the author of a paper can be perceived as predatory. The quality of a paper is a subjective measure of the journal it was published in, the authors on the paper, and the number of citations it accumulates. The best way to determine if a journal is good is from its reputation, which is subjective. Knowing the quality and reputation of the authors is also subjective, and it takes time to get to know the leaders in a field. Citations are a difficult measure because some citations (from other articles) are perceived as more prestigious than others (conference citations).
The most pressing current solution is Plasmyd http://plasmyd.com/. They have a very clean and simple layout and a well stated value proposition. The idea is the same. "Each [paper] has its own page on the site that includes its abstract, a link to the paper and an area for leaving comments." http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/27/meet-plasmyd-a-search-enginediscussion-platform-just-for-scientists/
It looks like the idea was thought of in October 2011 (when they joined Facebook https://www.facebook.com/plasmyd) They also have be mentioned in TechCrunch (a popular technology blog) in September 2012 (http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/27/meet-plasmyd-a-search-enginediscussion-platform-just-for-scientists/)
It seems like they went through the same thought process as me:
"Akil is a second year graduate student at the University of California Irvine studying stem cell biology. He and his co-founder Kevin Wu, a second year graduate student at UC San Diego studying bioinformatics, were frustrated by existing search and discussion options like Google Scholar, PubMed and Mendeley. Each of these made it possible to track down individual papers, but it didn’t provide a way to see what other scientists thought of the papers or to ask questions of the scientific community. “Google Scholar is a pretty good search engine,” Akil says, “But we went and talked to them and discussion is not what they are focused on.” And although papers are discussed indirectly on sites like Reddit and Hacker News, they tend to be about news articles written by lay people for lay people." http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/27/meet-plasmyd-a-search-enginediscussion-platform-just-for-scientists/
Also, people can comment anonymously (really with a pseudonym) and moderation is just like Reddit (as I was planning). They are targeting only researchers and are looking to lab budgets as their business model and possibly ads from scientific suppliers on the site:
"Akil and Wu want to have a site strictly for discussing scientific papers. For now Plasmyd isn’t screening the credentials of commenters. Moderation is handled through up and downvotes, just like Reddit and Hacker News. The team hasn’t raised any funding yet, but they do have a business model in mind. “We’re still idealistic grad students, but our market is pretty niche,” Akil says. “There’s only something like one million scientists in the U.S.” But he says scientists have a big say in how lab budgets are spent, and companies selling equipment and supplies have few ways of directly marketing to scientists. That could be a big opportunity for Plasmyd, if the service takes off." http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/27/meet-plasmyd-a-search-enginediscussion-platform-just-for-scientists/
The excitement around their product seems to have died. They only have 27 likes on Facebook and their last post was in August 2012. Similarly, their twitter account posted interesting articles weekly from August 2012 until November 2012 and then stopped posting without a word. They have 131 followers https://twitter.com/plasmyd. Also, the last post on their blog was on August 15 2012 http://blog.plasmyd.com/ The post makes the case for a site like this one (or mine) and makes it well. Their goals are just what mine are. "Discussions like these would provide authors the ability to elaborate on their ideas and answer questions that other scientists have. In addition, having a unified scientific community discussing papers would create a sense of accountability as an inaccurate paper would be viewed poorly by the community, thereby augmenting the peer review process in selecting for accurate and reproducible science. At the end of the day science thrives in the light of healthy discussions and by providing a platform for that we can help researchers generate better science."
The above reasons lead me to believe they stagnated because of their execution. They have already indexed 60 million papers (http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/27/meet-plasmyd-a-search-enginediscussion-platform-just-for-scientists/). They do not have a beachhead to focus on. The idea seemed well received and people could see a clear need (http://www.reddit.com/r/bioinformatics/comments/y7tsj/im_trying_to_get_the_word_out_about_my_site_that/) Some people mocked that they had no way to get the entire scientific community to automatically switch at once over to their platform (and mentioned that PLoS is doing something similar), but again, they have no focused beachhead. And some issues came up with they way they verify and notify authors. Overall the reaction was positive.
There is still a chance to differentiate Sapere Aude by focusing on the customer feeling the most pain and expanding from there. If Plasmyd were to do that instead of trying to be everything for everyone for all papers Sapere Aude would have a significantly lower chance of success.
There are many other attempts at bringing scientific journals to the general public. Some of them focus on providing open access to the articles, some focus on finding the most impactful articles, some focus on discussion, and some focus on curating interesting discussions. None of these solutions is addressing the great pain felt by both sides of the climate change debate, a failure to get the truth from the data.
Ernie is the target customer for a discussion centered around research articles. Very few journals provide a forum for Ernie to also discuss the research (PLOS, Nature, BMJ). And, if Ernie wants to join the discussions on these few sites, he must navigate to the discussion section and post under his real name (and risk looking/feeling dumb, or being seen as a competing researcher to the authors).
In other cases, Ernie must be part of the review board of the website to rate and review articles (Scholastichq). These methods stringently ensure a high academic level of discussion, but also dissuade lay people looking for intelligent discussion about current topics. Through a different media, TED is trying to fill Ernie's need. On TED Ernie can watch presentations of interesting topics and comment with others about the research below the video. TED talks are focused on the general research of the speaker and not a specific article. Also, the link to the articles discussed by the speaker is buried in their biography. Quora is also trying to fill Ernie's need of scientific dialogue. Ernie can ask intelligent questions and expect intelligent answers on Quora. However, this is still removed from the source of knowledge, scientific research.
First is the Public Library of Science (PLOS) http://www.plos.org/#1 - Their main focus is on providing research for free to the public. All their journals are peer reviewed and include comment sections and metric sections. The comment section is bulky. Comments are more threads in a forum and must be clicked on to be viewed. Discussion could be improved by making a conversationally more conducive layout. The landing pages for the journals are really well laid out and friendly.
Discussion is not a large part of the PLOS experience. A few blog posts by PLOS try to encourage commenting but they conclude people are too shy because they are not experts in the field. < http://blogs.plos.org/everyone/2012/07/23/no-comment/ > < http://blogs.nature.com/nascent/2009/02/commenting_on_scientific_artic.html > < http://www.perlsteinlab.com/round-table/if-you-email-it-they-will-comment > < http://shirleywho.wordpress.com/2010/03/30/no-comment/ > < http://jasonpriem.org/2011/01/has-journal-article-commenting-failed/ > People are encouraged to put in their name upon sign up and may feel uncomfortable commenting (fear of looking dumb, or being a competing researcher). This problem may be relieved by allowing anonymous comments. This could create a nasty comment section, but that can be curated. Having no discussion is worse. This problem stretches back to 2009 < http://blogs.plos.org/everyone/2009/04/07/why-post-comments-on-plos-one/ >.
Journals can be searched by most recent, most viewed, and featured discussions. They have seven peer reviewed journals: PLOS ONE, PLOS Biology, PLOS Medicine, PLOS Genetics, PLOS Computational Biology, PLOS Pathogens, and PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. They are supported by charging authors to publish their work. This creates incentives for the journal to allow anyone to publish because they will also pay. Questions have arisen over the trustworthiness of journals publishing articles from authors who are paying. The worry is that these journals will just take any article, regardless of quality, just to make money. < http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090615/full/news.2009.571.html >
Second is Scholastica - https://scholasticahq.com - They provide a way to publish papers right away with journals created and curated by anyone. They solve the problem of publishing lag. That is, papers written today do not have to wait for a few months to be published. They do not have a ranking system or a comments system, and they focus mostly on law reviews.
Third is Google Scholar - http://scholar.google.com - Google scholar is simply a database of academic papers. In true Google fashion, they provide great search functions. Scholar also has author profiles (with ranks for authors, citations per author, and author bios). Scholar links to pages where papers are hosted. Articles can be found through a related articles feature and through articles that cite a particular article. Scholar provides metrics for journals too. Importantly, Scholar does not provide a landing page for articles or a comment or rating system for articles. They only provide a link to where the journal is hosted. “Google Scholar aims to rank documents the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each document, where it was published, who it was written by, as well as how often and how recently it has been cited in other scholarly literature.” http://scholar.google.com/intl/en/scholar/about.html
Fourth is F1000 - http://f1000research.com - F1000 is a group of a few thousand leading researchers who curate impactful articles in biology and medicine, comment on the articles, and rank them with reviews. They also have 9,000 followers on twitter <https://twitter.com/F1000> The service is subscription based ($10/month, or an Institutional license). They have a ranking system and comment system for subscribers. The main values that they provide are eliminating publication delay, including all the data used in a paper, peer reviewing, transparent refereeing (no anonymous or pseudonym reviews), and open access. <http://f1000.com/resources/F1000Research-Open-Science.pdf>
There have been a few attempts to scientifically determine which authors and journals have the most impact. The H-Index - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H-index is a measure of how successful a researcher is. It is based upon how many papers a researcher is written and how many citations per paper the researcher has received. Impact factor - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_factor is a way to rank journals based upon the average number of citationa a paper published in the journal recieves.
The Directory of Open Access Journals < http://dod.lub.lu.se/doaj?func=browse&uiLanguage=en > provides a database of all open access journals.
There are few solutions for Ernie to find information about climate change, and even these few are heavily biased and filled with ad hominem attacks against people with the opposing viewpoint. There are only about 10,000 climate change papers published in the last decade. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=climate-change-disinformation-campaign&WT.mc_id=SA_CAT_SP_20121217>. It seems like most information is released in reports by organizations, not researchers. Reports also contain action agendas for policy makers. This would be ok if people writing the report were wholly unbiased. The primary audience for a current report from IPCC <http://www.ipcc-syr.nl/> will be, “policymakers, in particular from governments, advisors to policymakers, and experts. However, it is recognized that others will also make use of the report." This is a short circuit of our political system and it is no wonder people are upset and confused about climate change. Policy makers receive reports telling them to enact laws, and when they do enact laws the public wonders why because to the public there was little evidence for action and/or it looks like a back room deal.
There are a few current solutions for Ernie citizens. These are all one sided and provide little discussion.
NOAA <http://www.noaa.gov/> as a side note, NOAA funded Gaea, the new super computer at ORNL dedicated to climate change models.
Natrue Climate Change <http://www.nature.com/nclimate/index.html>
Journal of Earth Science and Climate Change <http://www.omicsonline.org/jescchome.php>
Climate Change related journals <http://www.eecg.utoronto.ca/~prall/climate/journals.html>
Scientific opinion on Climate Change, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change>
Sapere Aude is a website for people interested in discussing current research in anthropogenic climate change to gather around to discuss and rate scientific research articles. The site addresses the problems of a lack of focus on the actual climate change research, a lack of openness about the research, and a lack of intelligent discussion surrounding the topic. The minimum viable product creates a landing page for articles. This page includes a comment section and a ranking system. If possible a download button can be added, but this against the interest of public discussion. Figure 1 is a mock up of the proposed design and Figure 2 is the design in an HTML editor. Notice the clean design that only incorporates the needed features to convey the purpose of the site.
The main design points are the two column format, the simple design, the lack of advertisements, the comment section, and the ability to import articles. The two column format gives equal weight to the research and the conversation. The simple design eliminates useless distractions. Advertisements would not work well with this format and would lower the perceived standard of the site. The comment section is individualized for each user. A button will be added to allow users to import papers they would like to discuss. This grows the website organically and makes sure the comments are focused on what the users are interested in.
Figure 1. Proposed site design
Figure 2. As the design appears in an HTML editor.
This approach to scientific discussion will succeed by learning from and improving upon the mistakes of others. First, the discussion will be open, public, and centered around a specific article. Second, comments can be added under pseudonyms. This sidesteps the issue of people being afraid to post out of fear of looking ignorant, or fear of commenting on a colleague in the field. Third, the articles are open access. This avoids the paywalls created around current journals that limit access to only those who can afford it (typically researchers in the field or universities). Fourth, there is an open rating system. This works much like other rating systems in that the community decides which papers are best and rates them accordingly. This provides an easy way to find the best papers about climate change. Fifth, the discussion is curated by the community. This ensures that the most insightful and thought provoking comments rise to the top while those that are trite, banal, or offensive fall to the bottom. This also gives the site a level of autonomy and removes the owners of the site (and their biases) from the moderation process. Sixth, the funding will come from a variety of sources from both sides of the debate to ensure our neutrality. If this is achieved our funders can be advertised on the site. If it is too one sided this does not need to be broadcast.
The layout is simple and clean. It covers the minimal three features to address the need: comments, ratings, and a landing page for articles. Comments are as visible as the article. This is an indication of their relative importances. Public discussion should not guide scientific research, but the public feedback can elevate impactful articles and curtail papers that are subpar. This cycle will improve scientific standards in an Darwinian way. The download button and the article rating are both prominent. Also, note that commenters may be anonymous. This is subject to change but the point is that commenters to not need to use their real name, location, or email address to comment. This should remove some of the anxiety that commenters may experience due to commenting on something they are not an expert in.
There are four main challenges to overcome in implementing Sapere Aude. First, the site must promote balanced discussion. This will be done by individualizing the comment sections of each article for each user. Second, the discussion must be kept focused and free from trolls. This will be done by encouraging users to vote comments up and down. Then, comments that are voted down by people on all sides of an issue can be placed at the bottom of comment sections or otherwise hidden from view. Third, users must be grouped by their conclusions and opinions. This can be done by sorting through the way users vote on comments and articles and comparing them to one another. This problem has already been researched in graph theory. Fourth, the voting system must be widely used to have enough data to sort users and make the site an experience. This is accomplished by setting milestones for users. To unlock more features they’ll have to vote and become involved, like a freemium model for interactivity.
There are two Ernies and two stages. There are the companies, the Ernie paying for the service, and the public, the Ernie using the service. This shift is interesting in that the service must benefit the public to benefit the companies. In a way the public is still a customer but they pay with attention, discussion, and interest. If the public pays with these the companies will pay with money. This setup also requires a diligent focus on neutrality in promoting articles and moderating discussion. Both of these can be done by the public when there is enough of a user base. Even then though the site must attract people who want a genuine discussion and reject people who are just angry. In the second stage the public will pay with a freemium model and the companies with a subscription model.
Below is a list of the value generated by the site for each party. A potential third party is added populated by researchers specifically.
Personalized discussion for papers
Sorting papers by influence
Sorting papers by comments, discussion
Maintaining a library for the user
Leaderboards for the most discussed articles in each subject
Value for Companies:
Supporting the truth of research
Understanding the most influential papers on a topic
Understanding public sentiment on a specific paper, author, or topic
Value for Researchers:
Quickly finding influential research papers
Facilitating the discernment of the quality of a paper
Value for Research Journals
Comments on the articles they publish
Greater visibility for the articles they publish
Looking at the above list, users can be enticed to join the service with the basic features like commenting and rating comments and articles, and they can be convinced to pay for features with more concrete value like sorting papers and maintaining an article library. Companies who decide to subscribe with us will receive the benefits of our statistics on the influence of papers, and the public sentiment of specific papers, authors, and broad topics. Because each user sees the site from an individualized perspective, no one can get an unfiltered view of the whole picture.
The public Ernie will be able to view articles without signing up. If he wants to comment or rate he must sign in. If this model yields a low conversion rate viewing the comments may be restricted to some degree. When Ernie signs up he is prompted for a username (which can be anything), an email (which can be any email, and will not be posted publicly without Ernie’s consent), and a password. The transaction for the company Erine is different. The company is approached with evidence of the success of the site, and pitched to be a funder. Their logo can be posted on the site as a financial backer. This would tell the public the company is seeking the truth of global warming science as a partner of the public.
The success of this venture rests upon the quality of discussion surrounding the articles. If the discussion is insightful, poignant, and respectful, people will stay and be inclined to be part of the community. However, if the discussion becomes vitriolic, hateful, and ad hominem attacks, people will not feel the sense of community needed. To achieve this end will require careful moderation in the beginning and a transition to community moderation.
With regard to ranking algorithms, quite a number of variables are important. Number of votes (up and down), time since submission, credibility of the ranker on the site (karma), and a desired confidence interval to negate the effect of only a few votes (when one paper is ranked 100% with 2 votes over an article ranked 98% with 98 votes).
How to balance items with only a few votes with those with many votes: <http://www.evanmiller.org/how-not-to-sort-by-average-rating.html>
Reddit, stumbleupon, delicious, hacker news ranking algorithms: <http://www.seomoz.org/blog/reddit-stumbleupon-delicious-and-hacker-news-algorithms-exposed>
There are two stages to the financial model. The first is to seek funding from financial backers who have a vested interest in seeing this website succeed. These include companies, organizations, and governments with an interest in finding the truth in the science of global warming. This model benefits the public and the financial backers. The public receives open access and engaging discussion, and the financiers can understand the public sentiment.
The second stage is self sustaining and relies on the services provided to the users and the information collected that can be sent to the companies. The users will have a freemium model and the companies will have a subscription model. The value added to both the users and companies is detailed in the previous section. Users will be drawn in with basic features and prompted with a subscription for more complete features. Companies will be offered a subscription to the statistical information gleaned from the user’s comments and votes. This information cannot be gotten from any one user because the site is viewed from individual perspectives.
Below are the financial models of current attempted solutions to Ernie’s problem. Traditional journals charge customers for access to journals. This is an obvious business model, but often the price for access excludes many people. Open access journals charge a publishing fee to the authors of papers. This provides incentive for the journal to accept all articles, and even if they don’t the incentive is there. These models and advertising models were rejected.
PLOS charges authors a publication fee so that they can offer the papers free to the public. Recipients of NIH and Howard Hughes Medical Institute have pledged to absorb this cost for recipients of their grants. PLOS maintains that all publication decisions are based on content of papers. PLOS is currently self sustaining.
Nature is a traditional journal. They charge the public and institutions for access to the material they publish. It is published weekly and costs $200 per year for an individual subscription. <http://www.nature.com/subscriptions/pricing_usa.html> Nature also provides pricing for all its subsidiary journals.
Scholastica Hq follows PLOS's pricing. Submissions are only $5 for law reviews and $10 for scholarly Journals <https://scholasticahq.com/pricing>
TED is owned by a non profit and spends all the money from the conferences on hosting conferences, putting the video's on the internet, and paying staffers. TED is also supported by companies (Rolex, Delta, and others, as well as by foundations including the Harnisch Foundation and the Gates Foundation and many others). Volunteers also support TED.
Quora does not currently have a monetization scheme but is looking into advertising, charging users for answers or promoting their questions, using Quora reputation as an indicator of a good potential employee, turning their platform into software for institutions. <http://www.quora.com/Quoras-Business-Model-and-Monetization/What-could-Quoras-long-term-business-plan-be>
Below are the known costs of implementing the website. These have not been estimated; however, they are on the order of magnitude of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for a proof of concept site. If the concept is proven, more funding can be sought.
Distribution costs - The costs of maintaining the server will be the major distribution cost. Initially the servers could be hosted on Amazon web services <http://aws.amazon.com/> <http://aws.amazon.com/ec2/pricing/>
Cost to gain a new customer - probably Google Adwords to start with. Highly competative words might be avoided. <http://support.google.com/adwords/answer/1704424?hl=en>
Cost of acquiring journal articles - Initially I will collect articles that are open access, and refrain from charging customers for access through my website.
The Customer Beachhead is the group of people feeling the most pain from not having the proposed product. In this case the beachhead is people and companies interested in the truth in climate change research articles. The number of people in favor of global warming, those that subscribe to pro global warming groups is easily accessible. Below are three examples.
125,000 people like Huffington Post Green <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/green/>
The Sierra Club has 1,400,000 members <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_Club>
Greenpeace has 2.8 million members <http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/about/faq_old/questions-about-greenpeace-in/>
Finding numbers for people who are still skeptical about global warming is more challenging, and I have not found any numbers. However, according to a recent poll by AXA Group, 65% of Americans believe climate change is scientifically proven <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/04/climate-change-skepticism-poll_n_1939846.html#slide=1221246>. This leaves a large margin and room for debate.
To narrow the focus of the discussion and thus encourage more concentrated discussion, the first articles published on the site will be about anthropogenic climate change. There are 200,000 articles fitting this category on Google Scholar; however, restricting the search to those published in the last four years returns 28,000 articles. This is still a large number, but only a few will be seeded into the site and the rest can be imported by the community as needed. Anthropogenic climate change also cuts to the heart of the larger climate change debate. If humans did not cause climate change or there is no way for us to fix the climate then the broader debate is moot.
Broad Target Customer:
The broadest market for a website for research article comment and rating is anyone with a curiosity in a field of science. Moving in, people who want to break into a new field, undergraduate and graduate students, would find value in conversation in technical fields. Even more specific are people interested in controversial fields that are accessible to the public, most notably the social sciences, politics, nutrition, anthropology, economics, and education. These fields are the targets after global warming. The most accessible, controversial, and valuable to the public is nutrition. This field is surrounded by pseudoscience and uncertainty, and finding the truth in the science would be welcome. Below presents Ernie, the broadest market Ernie, in his attempt to fill the need of scientific discussion about a research article. In the day in the life after is Ernie using the proposed solution.
Below are the number of articles returned by Google Scholar for other topics that may be pursued.
Climate change - 2,110,000 http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=climate+change&btnG=&as_sdt=1%2C43&as_sdtp=
Anthroprogenic climate change - 216,000 http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=anthropogenic+climate+change&btnG=&as_sdt=1%2C43&as_sdtp=
Climate change solution - 2,550,000 http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=climate+change+solution&btnG=&as_sdt=1%2C43&as_sdtp=
Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) - 124,000 http://scholar.google.com/scholar?start=10&q=affordable+care+act&hl=en&as_sdt=0,43
Gay marriage - 1,330,000 http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=same+sex+marriage&btnG=&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C43
Nutrition - 2,450,000 http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=nutrition&btnG=&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C43
A day in the life before
Scene or Situation: Science is playing a bigger role in the public. This is happening with public opinion (global warming), public policy (banking crisis), and public and individual health (nutrition and exercise). However, most science is filtered through news outlets, magazines, and blogs. Rarely is the focus of science on the main source of scientific knowledge, research articles.
Ernie is a common person interested in learning about a new topic of interest or he is a researcher trying to get a broader picture of similar work happening just beyond the scope of his narrow research focus. In both cases, he is not a leader in the field he is reading about. Thus, he needs direction (unbiased and at the source) and a safe way to engage in the discussion.
Desired outcomes: Ideally, Ernie could discuss papers at the site the article is offered with people also interested in the same article. On a larger, ideological scale, the focus of public, scientific discussion will revolve around the research articles presenting the research and not around filtered sources like news outlets. Additionally these articles can be ranked as a quantitative way to measure the qualitative impact and worth of the research.
Attempted approach: Ernie the intelligent layperson must currently pay costly subscriptions to read research articles (or be part of an institution with a subscription), and then he must email the authors if he wants to discuss their work further. Very few journals provide a forum for Ernie (people reading the articles) to also discuss them (PLOS, Nature, BMJ). And, if Ernie wants to join the discussions on these few sites, he must navigate to the discussion section and post under his real name (and risk looking/feeling dumb, or being seen as a competing researcher to the authors). In other cases, Ernie must be part of the review board of the website to rate and review articles (Scholastichq). These methods stringently ensure a high academic level of discussion, but also dissuade lay people looking for intelligent discussion about current topics. Through a different media, TED is trying to fill Ernie's need. On TED Ernie can watch presentations of interesting topics and comment with others about the research below the video. TED is focused on the general research of a person and generally not a specific article of theirs. Also, the link to the articles discussed by the speaker is buried in their biography. Quora is also trying to fill Ernie's need of scientific dialogue. Ernie can ask intelligent questions and expect intelligent answers on Quora. However, this is still removed from the source of knowledge, scientific research.
Ernie the researcher often goes to conferences to review work that is currently being done not only in his own narrow field but also on a slightly larger picture scale. This can give Ernie ideas for new research and initiate collaborations with other labs. He can discuss with people how his research complements theirs, and vice versa.
Interfering factors: Ernie cannot does not know where to go to discuss articles outside his own contacts. Ernie is apprehensive about contacting the authors of articles for fear of taking up their time with petty questions, looking foolish, challenging their work, or coming of as trying to steal their work or research direction. If Ernie wants to
Economic consequences: Ernie is left searching through papers with only vague, ill-defined metrics to guide his search. Most obviously, this is a waste of Ernie's time. There is also an economic cost of the loss of enlightenment on Ernie's part and any collaboration that could have occurred between Ernie and another researcher. On a broad scale, the standard of intellectual conversation in a public forum will rise, and thus so will the outcomes of public decisions.
A day in the life after
New approach: With a more visible, accessible, open forum for discussion, Ernie can feel free to join a discussion to learn more about a topic of his interest. He can also view the rankings of articles in a given field to quickly find the core, founding articles of a field.
Enabling Factors: The new approach rests on an open forum for discussion and ranking. The goal is to remove any friction users might feel when commenting or ranking. Current friction is the lack of anonymity, bulkiness of use, and lack of critical mass.
Economic Rewards: The economic rewards are on a broad scale, increased intellectual conversation. On Ernie's scale, he saves time finding important papers and has reduced apprehension about participating in an academic discussion, leading to his personal enlightenment.
Long Term Vision
This model of scientific discussion can be applied to many other areas of research including nutrition, politics, economics, philosophy, education, social sciences, law. These areas can be introduced once the climate change debate has taken off. The ultimate goal of Sapere Aude is to increase scientific literacy among the public, focus discussion of science on research articles, and perhaps let the public decode and interpret data for themselves and cut out the bias of the researcher.