Guest Post by Helen Olson
University presses and academic journals may perpetuate the world’s most groundbreaking research, but they tend towards the heavily conservative when it comes to changing anything and everything about their organization. But the inevitable influx of digital and new media ventures has already started trickling into the tightknit institutions, and many scholars are already calling for a dismantling of the old — and often unwieldy and inaccessible! Some of the latest experiments will stick, while others will go all Crystal Pepsi on humanity. Until time decides to tell, the following represent a few things academics are saying about where their research might be headed.
With the popularity of MIT OpenCourseWare, TED, Khan Academy, Open Culture, and other beloved open access initiatives, academic publishers might yank some inspiration from their setups. Transitioning from paid subscriptions to journals will result in some egregious costs — an estimated £60 million in the UK, for example — but caves to the precedent already set by open source. Consumers used to snapping up research for free likely won’t want to pay for it, making the more traditional models die out over time.
In the U.S., researchers hope to fight the encroach of open source with legislation. Known as the Research Works Act, it sought to block research backed by public schools from free availability — even though, as many pointed out, such a measure would functionally bar Americans from accessing the studies for which their taxes paid. While the bill eventually died out in February 2012, the future could see similar propositions crop up and completely alter the way citizens access academic studies. By legally protecting the system allowing (or even requiring) them to pay even more money for research they already funded, essentially.
Somewhere between profiting and populism sits the Creative Commons suite of licensing options, which economics expert Rajiv Sethi believes might appeal to many future academic publishers. Creative Commons offers up many different ways for researchers to choose how readers access and share their information, making the process far more autonomous than open source, but more approachable than charging to read. Since the professor’s 2010 predictions, some publications have experimented with the format to their ultimate satisfaction, rendering it another possible route for the scholarly world to take.
Yet another strategy for delivering research to the masses involves the authors themselves paying the publishers to make their work available to readers completely gratis. It’s a form of open source that ensures the business’ survival without forcing American taxpayers to shell out once more, and Michael P. Taylor’s opinion column at The Scientist lauds the process as especially ideal for lesser-funded colleges and universities who lack the budget for buying up a library full of expensive journals. Such a solution benefits everyone involved while remaining true to academic publishing’s (ostensible) core goals.
Like most publishing these days, the academic variety is expected to start following suit when it comes to adapting to ebook readers and other digital technologies. Organizations such as JISC actively encourage scholarly publications to embrace the latest developments and bring their knowledge to the more “plugged-in” masses. So far, it seems to be working, albeit slowly. But the group hopes the relatively recent release of The Digital Monograph Technical Landscape will offer up even more incentive and information easing the transition to new mediums.
Way back in the dark ages of 2009, Phil Pochoda was exploring the possibility of journals courting both digital and traditional media simultaneously, outlining how they could juggle the two and meet multiple consumer demands. One of the more interesting uses he posits revolves around incorporating more and more social media efforts into the promotional fold. Taking advantage of Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and similar resources means connecting the researchers themselves to their intended audiences, opening up informal dialogues and allowing for question and answer sessions. Which might very well lead to even further research!
The Elsevier controversy of 2012 prompted blogger, data scientist, and math enthusiast Cathy O’Neil to reflect on the future of peer-reviewing and “refereeing” published works. She expresses an eagerness to see that component of the process spread out to fellow professionals as opposed to editors, and even sees some value in promoting crowdsourced checks and balances. However, the system would need considerable regulating and demarcating to ensure the reliable standards currently in place with the more traditional system. Any progress towards this possibility will inevitably crawl at a rather sluggish clip, but it does make sense when one considers the more democratic open source initiatives gaining momentum right now.
Peer reviews typically involve a double-blind process where neither submitter nor editor knows who wrote up the research at hand in order to prevent bias. But around 2011, some – such as those published by The American Economic Association – sloughed off the format altogether in an obviously quite controversial move. Doing so, they believe, facilitates greater transparency and accountability on the part of the peer reviewers. It’s a newer trend, one which might need a little adjusting over time, but one that could mean a massive shift in how academics approach their studies.
also published here
- Open access is the future of academic publishing, says Finch report (guardian.co.uk)
- The Academic Publishing Empire Strikes Back (telescoper.wordpress.com)
- Published research should be free and open to all, says academic panel (independent.co.uk)
- Wellcome Trust to penalise scientists who don’t embrace open access (guardian.co.uk)
- Is the Academic Publishing Industry on the Verge of Disruption? (educationviews.org)