Improving the Academic Journal Article

Long-form journal articles have their place, but we need something new

by Joseph de la Torre Dwyer
Sep 6, 2019

What would it be worth to improve the production, communication, and distribution of knowledge? Currently, long-form journal articles in the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences are the predominant formal mode of knowledge representation. To both share and catch up on cutting edge research, we turn to peer-reviewed articles published in established journals that have a reputation for disseminating quality work. This system has a very long and distinguished pedigree, but it is not optimal.

As Philosophy 101 suggests, the fundamental units of knowledge are premises and logic combined together to make arguments. What if there were a peer-reviewed journal that worked only with these units and avoided prose entirely? In other words, a journal that looks across papers and disciplines at the premises and the underlying logic that accurately represents the current state of human knowledge? I call this the Tree of Knowledge—as it would be made of treelike structures (directed acyclic graphs, to be specific) that highlight research associated with specific premises as well as the importance and validity of the arguments they present.

What are the purported benefits of such a journal? First, authors will produce better knowledge because they must (a) ensure they have a clear argument with a precise, debatable conclusion, and (b) engage not with citation-pages but citation-premises in the literature. For their part, readers will better understand the state of the literature, its gaps, and where they can make the biggest contribution because the tree will easily highlight (a) solid conclusions, (b) weak premises, and (c) new contributions.

Also, the public will be better able to use cutting edge knowledge. By explicitly bringing different authors’ contributions together, each premise will represent a meta-analysis of the current state of knowledge making it easier for individuals to find and use research. Different disciplines will collaborate better because contributions to knowledge can be as small as pointing out a logical error or an inappropriate method that can affect another discipline now rather than in five years’ time. Lastly, we’ll be able to use machines as knowledge producing assistants more effectively since information will be represented in consistent units in a database rather than in prose.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

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