This just makes so much sense for several reasons:

  1. Let's say I find errors in a very long research publication - A code repository like issue system would allow me to highlight this and notify the owner
  2. Let's say I want to add to a research work incrementally in an effort to make it complete - A code repository like PR mechanism would enable me to publish my work and notify the author without "citing" the said work and having to mention all the details again.
  3. Let's say I want to make updates on continued research and not just stop at one publications - A code repository like version control would allow making several releases based on work that could be published, moreover it allows maintaining a timeline of all releases for better clarity.

Every shortcoming I can think of can possibly addressed by treating research publications as repositories instead of standalone PDF documents.

  • What are your thoughts on this and has anyone thought of implementing this already?

Shouldn't one of the primary attributes of research be to enable collaboration after publication for the study of a subject?

  • Why haven't there been the tools to do that yet?
  • 1
    Would the repository only be open to peer-reviewed content? Or, on the other hand, would it include all the miracle cures for cancer that now flood the web? Experience with the social media sites shows that unless your comments are tightly curated, they will descend to name-calling and/or virtue-signaling in short order.
    – GEdgar
    Dec 16 '19 at 21:25
  • @GEdgar I think a tagging system could allow peer-reviewed content to coexist with non-peer reviewed content. Maybe you want to see the author's latest thinking on a topic. You can. Maybe you want to see the author's latest peer-reviewed thinking on a topic. You can. Maybe you want to see my crackpot edits to the author's manuscript. You can (but why would you?).
    – emory
    Dec 16 '19 at 22:01

Because how do magazines that publish research made with goverment's funds make money then?

Sarcasm aside. I get you. Im in IT field, so I know that something like a github or googledocs would be wonderful for research and all, and it is, but there are many significant challenges. Just to name a few:

  1. International cooperation.- Science is an effort not of one country, and a paper on a published research might take upon the steps taken by a research done in a very different country.
  2. Language.- As if country differences are not enough, a paper can cite another from another language, and even if the trail (like in Google citations) can name it, being able to create a clear research routes for various languages means at the very least the technical challenge of translating or having to correct stuff on various languages.
  3. Authorship.- Not all researchers are considered the author, sometimes there are corporate authors.
  4. Copyright and distribution.- Laws vary greatly from country to country regarding this, even within the same country by states/provinces; so research, even if public, would need some serious changes in regulations to not have troubles (also add the problem with magazines that charge money for access).
  5. Connectivity.- The repository would have to connect to many databases with different characteristics that would mean a myriad of technical considerations
  6. Accessibility of platform.- For this to be implemented for current journals the code of the repository/platform would have to be open at the very least so it can be adopted. That also means creating communities to work on it.
  7. Lack of international standards agreements. There might be some common accepted guidelines for many things, but for many others there arent. I would like you to think how different can a mere scholar system be (I used to think sophomore was some kind of fungus.) Now think about all the differences in editorial guidelines for different journal even in the same field and how it would be addressed to technically reach an agreement that could be coded into a general standard.
  8. Political challenges.

As @Wolfgang Bangerth said, there are some journals that already do that, but we are still ways off to go. Hopefully the world seems to be moving to more open science. I would like to know what doctors in other fields are experiencing too.


There are journals that do that. Here is one: https://joss.readthedocs.io/en/latest/submitting.html

In some sense, arXiv.org is also doing that, allowing to version preprints. It doesn't use a "repository" in the sense of git or subversion, but it allows you to keep track of different versions of a manuscript, and that's really what is key: Any system that allows you what's in a paper at a later time must allow identifying and accessing a particular version of the paper.

  • Thanks! I've looked through arxiv and it has done a lot of good in terms of no paywall peer reviews and version control but I still feel long term maintainability and collaboration tools are missing. For example, I was reading a great paper on ACM and I have a few questions and things I'd like to point out but there's no way to do that other than mailing the authors. Dec 17 '19 at 1:42
  • 1
    @RajeshS what’s wrong with mailing the authors?
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 17 '19 at 2:59
  • Well you'd never know if something about it has already been discussed by someone else. I believe reading through the feedback on the publication can be incredibly useful as well. Just imagine, if this discussion was a DM instead of your comment. Dec 17 '19 at 5:05

Because we are stuck with an antiquated publishing system, which is very difficult to improve since it has been coopted by funders for deciding which researchers to support. Versioning and open collaboration would make it much harder to track authorship and citations, which are the currencies on which careers are built.

Still, the idea is very natural, and resurfaces regularly. See my 2014 blog post https://researchpracticesandtools.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-case-for-emancipating-articles-from.html , and my experiment with hosting a review article on GitHub https://github.com/ribault/CFT-Review . (So far there were only two minor contributions by others.)

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