Tuesday, October 2, 2012

On the need for social change in the #openaccess and scholarly communication system

I have written a little bit in the past about how the culture of information sharing and dissemination is different from one discipline or field of research to the next.

Barbara Fister recently wrote in Inside Higher Ed about how we need more than just technological change to create greater access [Open Access] to scholarship, we need to create a culture where scholars are encouraged to share their research using Open Access methods. This is true for those in the sciences, the social sciences and in the humanities. She noted:
Much harder is changing the cultural practices that surround publishing, the ones that assign value to certain prestigious journals and university presses, and then assign value to scholars by proxy, relying on publishers to curate our faculties (a task university presses didn’t sign on for, I should add).
Of course, researchers and faculty are concerned with the perceived prestige of the sources they publish in.  Harvard is trying to convince the faculty that they should move the prestige to Open Access. But, that tactic may not work at all institutions and fields.  Some fields like chemistry have strong ties to industry, and there is some reluctance for many chemists to share their knowledge widely (for financial reasons, patent reasons, etc.).  [See page 20 of this PDF report.]  Some in the humanities may have concerns with others sharing (tweeting, blogging, etc.) their work that the author thinks is inappropriate.  However, most scientists would be happy to know that their work is being discussed in non-traditional scholarly channels.

The policies of tenure and promotion committees vary from institution to institution, and from department to department.  If we are going to truly promote greater access to research and the literature (and data and everything else), we (OA advocates) need to provide greater incentives for the researchers with different tenure and promotion policies.  This starts with the premise that Open Access is the default mode of scholarship (PDF), and that if they want to hide their research in a closed toll-access journal (or a journal that does not allow for green OA versions, or in a low-circulation book), then they will need to jump through hoops to submit articles/chapters to such journals and books.

This opinion piece in Aljazeera also noted the culture of some academics to hide their research from the rest of the world, because some researchers want to only share their research with a small set of other researchers through toll-access journals or books--to only those with the correct keys to that set of knowledge. Sarah Kendzior wrote:
Academic publishing is structured on exclusivity. Originally, this exclusivity had to do with competition within journals. Acceptance rates at top journals are low, in some disciplines under 5 per cent, and publishing in prestigious venues was once an indication of one’s value as a scholar.
Today, it all but ensures that your writing will go unread. "The more difficult it is to get an article into a journal, the higher the perceived value of having done so," notes Katheen Fitzpatrick, the Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association. "But this sense of prestige too easily shades over into a sense that the more exclusively a publication is distributed, the higher its value."
When we convince tenure and promotion committees of the value of sharing research through Open Access channels, and that OA has more benefit to the institution (and the department and the individual) than hiding the research in supposedly prestigious toll-access sources, then the value of OA will go up as more and more t&p committees and funders demand it.

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