Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Death of the Law Review Article Too?

In the September 2006 issue of The Scientist, Michael Seringhaus and Dr. Mark Gerstein of Yale’s Bioinformatics lab, which Gerstein heads, predict the demise of conventional scientific journal publication in The Death of the Scientific Paper (Gerstein’s preprint available here).

The summary from The Scientist of their critique: “Although the basic currency of science is the research article, the fruits of modern laboratory research are often incompatible with the aliquot suitable for publication in a scientific manuscript. Genome-scale inquiry and high-throughput experimentation yield enormous data sets, straining the established article framework; meanwhile, isolated findings or negative results are seldom published at all. Further, it has become obvious that preserving data in its native digital format - with search, annotation, and update capabilities - is desirable. Databases are already the primary form of information storage and access for genomics and protein structure research.”

Their proposed solution: “Journals must produce more than just papers. Editors should demand online deposit of data as a requirement for publication, and enforce a unified nomenclature for biology. In addition to the traditional manuscript, authors should deliver structured methods and results sections suitable for computer parsing, a lay-friendly news blurb…and a single PowerPoint slide summarizing the work. This entire body of information should be peer-reviewed, published en masse, and kept in sync, thereby avoiding the current problem of disconjugate articles and data sets.”

My observations: On the one hand, it’s kind of pathetic to see how far behind legal scholarship is compared to our colleagues in science. Can you imagine a group of legal scholars fretting over how to publish their “high-throughput experimentation” work and its “enormous data sets”? Although the “law and” trend has started to produce more law faculty with interdisciplinary interests (even PhDs!), and more law review articles actually have not just numbers in them, but actual data analysis, the basic law review article hasn’t changed in over 100 years. I’m not talking about the student-edited/peer reviewed debate—just the basic format in which we convey theory and application.

On the other hand, there are similarities between law and science in terms of how scholars access information. As Seringhaus and Gerstein observe: “Scientific information is exchanged in a multi-tiered manner, and these myriad other channels render the scientific manuscript optional, if not obsolete. For instance, those seeking authoritative high-level scientific knowledge can visit the NCBI Bookshelf, an indexed and fully searchable digital archive of textbooks with citations linking directly to PubMed abstracts; a scientist in search of genomic data or bioinformatics software need look no further than online databases or laboratory Web sites. Often the journal article, the bedrock of peer-reviewed scientific knowledge, is the last information source consulted.”

Much the same could be said with respect to legal scholars as well (you are reading this blog, after all, and when was the last time you went into the law school library?). So I put this question to legal scholars: Is it time for law reviews to go beyond posting pdf versions of articles on the web and consider making the kind of changes Seringhaus and Gerstein suggest for scientific journals? Should legal scholars produce (and be evaluated based on) more than just the conventional law review article as the basic currency of legal scholarship?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

** discussed here too **

9/10/2006 6:41 PM  
Anonymous Luis Villa said...

Is there really that much to put online, though? Obviously more could be done to (for example) make all case references machine-readable, so that all articles referring to a specific case could be easily found, and tress of case references could be built. But as you point out, there just isn't much legal research generating the kinds of data that scientists put out as a matter of course, so there isn't that much that can really be done. For the more technically minded reader, this discussion reminds me of Steven O'Grady's discussion of microformats and the future of journalism- you don't need honking databases of information in many cases to get interesting results.

As far as the pocketpart link goes, I strongly recommend Madison's take on that.

9/10/2006 10:48 PM  

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