Strategies for Promoting Social Scholarship

As I noted in my last post, the development of collaborative, online, open access scholarship (which I’ll call “social scholarship”) faces some significant obstacles, including cultural barriers, concerns about intellectual property, and the need for sound economic models for open access publications. But I think social scholarship can and will grow. Here are some strategies to promote it:

1) Develop tools that enable researchers to what they already do, but better.

Why have some disciplines, such as physics, embraced online delivery of research? As Stephen Pinfield notes in “How Do Physicists Use an E-Print Archive?,” the physics e-print archive arxiv succeeded in part because it “automated” physicists’ existing practices of exchanging pre-prints. Rather than having to go through the hassles of mailing or emailing preprints to multiple colleagues, physicists could easily post them online and, as a side benefit, make them more visible. Once researchers are convinced that a tool can help them do what they already do, only better, then they can also begin to see how it may help them to do new stuff, too. For instance, when I talk to researchers about Zotero, they first recognize its value in downloading bibliographic citations and creating bibliographies, but then begin to get excited about the possibilities of tagging and searching their collections.

2) Make social scholarship cool.
A primary lesson I learned in high school: if the cool people are doing it, pretty much everyone else will want to as well. I typically try something new (whether food, books, music, or technology) because someone I respect has recommended it. In a more scholarly context, I often evaluate the quality of a journal by checking out its editorial board. As researchers see how their colleagues are having a significant impact on research by making their work available as open access, they may be more willing to release their own research as open access. Likewise, as leading scholars come to be associated with open access journals (witness, for example, the Open Humanities Press, which has a top-notch editorial board), these publications will likely gain more legitimacy.

3) Assuage concerns about intellectual property.
Certainly not every researcher will want to blog or post pre-prints about ongoing work—someone pursuing a patent wouldn’t want to give away the goods prematurely, and if a researcher hopes to publish in a journal that doesn’t allow self-archiving, then he or she may not want to test that policy (although plenty of folks do). But researchers’ fears of being scooped or plagiarized if they post material online seem exaggerated. Indeed, posting a pre-print or a blog entry about a research breakthrough may enable a researcher to register that idea without having to wait through the long publication cycle. Sure, the Web enables plagiarizers to easily find information and copy and paste it into a document, but it also makes it easy to search for a unique phrase and catch the plagiarizers. (Witness today’s Chronicle of Higher Education article on journals experimenting with plagiarism detection tools similar to TurnItIn.) By using a Creative Commons license, researchers can make clear the terms under which their work can be used.

4) Experiment with new models for open access publication.
Even as the web makes the distribution of content easier, most academics aren’t ready to dispense with the peer review, copy editing, and in some cases the marketing functions provided by publishers, all of which cost money. So how will we pay for open access publishing? Various economic models are emerging—author fees, university or library support for publishing, etc. SCOAP3 pursues an intriguing collaborative model that has emerged from the high energy physics community, whereby a consortium supported by libraries, research societies and other groups would contract with publishers to provide their services and publish high energy physics journals as open access. To cover the approximately the United States’ approximately $4.5 million share of the total costs of publishing these journals, libraries, research societies, government agencies, etc. would re-direct funds to the SCOAP3 consortium. Rather than shifting the costs of open access publication to authors (through publication charges) or individual institutions (by moving the publication function to libraries, for instance), SCOAP3 hopes to control costs by pooling funds and to give authors and libraries (the producers, purchasers and consumers of journal content) a stronger voice in the publication process. The SCOAP3 consortium would contract with publishers to provide peer review and editorial quality control, but the publications would be open access. The publishing industry wouldn’t be closed out of this process; indeed, several publishers and scholarly societies are participating the conversations about SCOAP3. Final publications would be deposited in open access repositories, enabling data mining and scholarly re-use.

5) Make the case that social scholarship is good and good for you.
Making research openly accessible can appeal to researchers’ altruistic impulses to share their work with independent scholars and researchers whose libraries cannot afford expensive journal subscriptions, as well as to make work paid for by the public available as a public good. Yet open access also makes sense purely for self-interest. As universities increasingly measure the “impact factor” of publications, articles that other researchers can easily find, comment upon, and link to will likely carry more weight. As Michael Jensen points out, the more accessible a work is, the more visible it is and more likely it is that it will be cited. (Of course, if tenure committees don’t view electronic publications as being as scholarly as more traditional publications, then self-interest may be undermined–but scholarly organizations such as the MLA and universities such as the members of the University of California system are beginning to recognize the importance of giving proper credit to electronic publications.)

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One response to “Strategies for Promoting Social Scholarship

  1. n.braguinski

    I like this clearly written and convincing list very much. It would be a good starting point for a youtube video promoting social scolarship, comparable to the “Wanna Work Together?” video promoting creative commons.

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