Excommunicating Scientific Discourse from the Imprimatur of Authority

George Perry

College of Sciences, University of Texas at San Antonio,
San Antonio, Texas 78249
Major human advances have closely followed those of communication technology; language, writing, printing and electronics have each changed the economy of information dissemination. Electronic publication has swept over our world to put information at the fingertips of most at an affordable cost, while only beginning to address the social context of scientific publication and its reliance on social and scientific norms through the peer review structure. We have to look back over five centuries to the invention of printing and its use, first as a means to continue the old order of the Catholic Church through printing Bibles and indulgences, and later as Luther's tool in the Reformation. Academic order and scientific publication emanated from authority, whether from learned societies or the pope. Imprimatur was critical in a world of limited information availability and low educational attainment, and where searching for absolutes was viewed as essential. Reliance on journal reputation and rigorous review does add value, as did the imprimatur, but at what cost? In the Renaissance it restricted Galileo, Copernicus, and countless others now unknown because their ideas were repressed. In a time when information can be rapidly compared, cross-checked and corrected, does retarding information from hypotheses, 'failed' experiments or novel but developing supporting ideas advance knowledge? WebmedCentral has addressed this issue head-on by developing two parallel journals, one with post-publication review and the other with pre-publication review. Both are based on peer review that embraces and looks to leadership from the scientific community for validity rather than narrow authority. These are exciting times for publishing and even more so for the truth.