Some of the problems that need to be addressed are:
- journals are wasting a lot of time and money
- rubbish and mediocrity is getting published, sometimes in "high impact" journals
- honorary authorship leads to long author lists and misplaced credit
- increasing emphasis on "sexy" speculative results
- metrics are taking priority over rigorous evaluation
- negative results or confirmatory studies don't get published
- lack of transparency of the refereeing and editorial process
It is always much easier to identify problems than to provide constructive and realistic solutions.
Here is my proposal for a possible way forward. I hope others will suggest even better approaches.
1. Abolish journals. They are an artefact of the pre-internet world and are now doing more harm than good.
2. Scientists will post papers on the arXiv.
3. Every scientist receives only 2 paper tokens per year. This entitles them to post two single author [or four dual author, etc.] papers per year on the arXiv. Unused credits can be carried over to later years. There will be no limit to the paper length. Overall, this should increase the quality of papers and will remove the problem of "honorary" authors.
4. To keep receiving 2 tokens per year, each scientist must write a commentary on 2 other papers. Multiple author commentaries are allowed. These commentaries can include new results checking the results of the commented on paper. Authors of the original can write responses.
5. When people apply for jobs, grants, and promotion they will submit their publication list and their commentary list. They will be evaluated on the quality of both. Those evaluating the candidate will find the quantity and quality of commentaries on their papers very useful.
The above draft proposal is far from perfect and I can already think of silly things that people will do to publish more... However, for all its faults I sincerely believe that this system would be vastly better than the current one.
The first step is to get the arXiv to allow commentaries to be added. But, this will only become really effective when there is a career incentive for people to write careful critical and detailed commentaries.
So, fire away! I welcome comment and alternative suggestions.