This is the second part of my review of Michael Nielsen's book "Reinventing Discovery - The New Era of Networked Science" (first part is here). Last time we talked about Galaxy Zoo, the Polymath Project, and why scientists don't (usually) do Wikis. This time I'd like to focus on the book parts which talk about ArXiv
First of all, I have to say I've been using ArXiv extensively lately as part of the ACUMEN project, trying to figure out who and what can be found there. The place is a bit of a mess - it's not Pubmed - but it still left me in awe, because not only that most of the astronomers I've searched had papers there, most of them contributed at least one of the papers themselves (you can see who submitted the paper).
ArXiv comes with a service called SPIRES (now inSPIRE) which can tell you how many times a paper was cited, who's citing who, and so forth. This way, it's possible to measure at least some of the impact of preprints (if you're a high-energy physicist). So, not only ArXiv makes the scientific communication faster, it also helps evaluate the impact of this kind of communication more accurately.
Unfortunately, not everybody gives ArXiv the honor it deserves. Nielsen tells how when he was writing the book, a physicist told him that Paul Ginsparg, ArXiv's creator, was wasting his talent on "collecting garbage", reflecting a disregard certain scientists have for "mere" tool builders. I don't know if this attitude is common in the scientific community, but it's discouraging nonetheless.
Open Access can be problematic
Citizen science isn't always all that - in the Polymath Project, there were people with good intentions but not much knowledge, their contributions didn't have much value to the project and had to essentially filtered out.
Misinformation - premature publications , especially in fields the mainstream media takes interest in, can spread far and wide, confuse the general public and discredit research projects in the eyes of the public.
How we can be more open (if you're reading this, you probably don't need these suggestions).
In the last few pages of the book, Nielsen suggests practical steps toward open science. A scientist can upload old data, code, etc. online for reuse (be sure to tell people how to cite it!); He/she can open a blog, contribute to other people's open science projects, or try to create a new one. Nielsen advises to "be generous in giving other scientists credit when they share their scientific knowledge in new ways" which I think is an excellent advice, even though the formatting and style guides are a bit behind the times when it comes to social media.
All in all, Reinventing discovery is a great book, however, I was a little disappointed to find only a small section dedicated to science blogs. The author explains that he had enough of the hype around blogging and that he doesn't want "to cover that well-trodden ground again", but I think the book could have benefited from a few more pages about the subject (yes, I know I'm not very objective here...). Also, though the book deals with - and recommends - open access, it isn't under Creative Commons licence (you can read why here).
Nielsen, Michael (2011). Reinventing Discovery Princeton University Press Other: 9780691148908