I like to write and publish research papers. I think it can be tremendously useful. A research paper serves as a reference describing what was done and what was achieved. Others can learn from these records, verify them, and build upon it.
It turns out that the form is less important than the content. Research papers do not have to be published in established scientific journals. A well-written blog post that describes and idea and reports fully on the results can be worth many formal research papers.
But formal journal publications are also useful. The process of undergoing formal peer review can sometimes enhance the work. Journals also provide some value in increasing the likelihood that the work will remain available for many years.
When I started reading research papers, you had to go (physically) to a library, find the journal you were looking for in the stacks. Figure out where the journal issue you cared for was… then look for the pages where your article was. It was very time-consuming.
Then the web came along and we no longer needed to do that. Search the title of an article and you will find it. To make sure you have the correct version, you can check against the journal’s name, the authors’ names and the publication year. Then if you must have a unique identifier, you can use the article’s Digital Object Identifier (DOI).
Notice how you do not need, ever, the page numbers where the journal article is located. You do not need that information because you are never going to hold in your hand the journal issue on paper. And even if you did, some journals are still printed on paper, after all, there is a nice table at the beginning or end of the issue that tells you where to find the article. Moreover, many journals do not even use page numbers anymore. Once you stop printing the articles on paper, it is a very natural thing to do.
So what you do not need, ever, is the pages where the article is located. You also do not need the name of the publisher or where it is located. Both can be deduced by automated software using the title of the article, the journal’s name and the year of publication, or from the DOI alone. There is no need to add more redundant information that nobody uses.
Five years ago or so, I decided to at least drop page numbers from my list of publications. Ever since it has been a fight with colleagues and bureaucrats who routinely consider my c.v. or my research reports as incomplete because I omit page numbers.
I find that many people don’t even understand what I mean when I object that it is not needed. They have this definition of a complete reference. A complete reference must include page numbers. What is it for? They don’t think about that. They follow (blindly) the rules. What is more, they can’t seem to think for themselves about why they follow the rule.
If I push, people object that there are still edge cases where having the page numbers stated helps. Sure. And there are still cases where horses and carriages are appropriate too.
Sadly, some of these people are established scientists. Believe it or not, some of these people have difficulty putting into question their assumptions. Scientists can be extremely conservative, and not always in the good sense of the word.
It gets worse. Why do I even have to maintain a publication list? It is fairly easy to find out what I published without me having to tell anyone. Google maintains automatically a list of my publications.
These are simple and small things, of course. But it does not stop there. We are also stuck in our ways with more important issues.
For years, I have been advocating what I call Star Trek economics. The idea is simple. If you go back a couple of centuries, everyone was a farmer or a servant working for a lord. Then the industrial revolution came along and people got jobs. Then things got a lot better over time because workers got more and more productive. Education, training, better tools… everything conspired to make workers ever more productive.
Today, we have solid evidence that this has come to an end. The same way the lords and their peasants could not go on in light of the industrial revolution, we also cannot go on “holding on jobs” the way we used to.
We need to rethink our economy. Some people have been proposing the adoption of basic income: everyone gets a paycheck from the government. When trying to promote this idea, I have gotten a tremendous amount of resistance. People are generally fine with some notion of “welfare” (if you can’t work and you have children to feed, we will help you). But thinking out of the box is painful.
Why can’t we go on listing page numbers for research articles, and training for good old jobs where we shall be ever more productive? You can go on. Forever if you want to… but you will increasingly look like an automaton that runs over the same algorithm, again and again, without any critical thought.
Truth is, it takes a lot of hard work to keep track of the reasons why we do things. And everyone is lazy, smart people especially.