I get a little testy when every attempt at developing a new way to share scholarship is required to pass a sustainability test. What we’re doing now isn’t sustainable. So why should new things have to prove they can do something our current system cannot provide? I’m all for thinking through the implications and having a some kind of plan. I’m not in favor of abandoning ideas because we can’t figure out how to put them to a test that the status quo has already failed. Miserably.
The printing press was more than a disruptive technology or a new business model for copying stuff. True, the printing press was a great copy machine, but it had a more profound impact. It made it possible for us to discover our cultural past by making classical texts widely available in uniform editions. It gave us more time to write new texts because we didn’t have to painstakingly copy the old ones before they could be shared. The printing press enabled us to compare and share ideas and spread them further than ever before.
So why did we decide to go backward? Why do we deliver this stuff we do to a system that will lock it up with licenses and copyrights and firewalls to prevent unauthorized access? Why do we work so hard for a deliberately tiny audience? Why did we lose faith in the power of ideas as a force for good?
Lessons learned? I think if I were doing the presentation over again tomorrow, I’d emphasize the practice of making data openly accessible should be considered as outside the normal scholarly communications system. It isn’t just for pirates and thieves. The goal is to make data sharing a standard practice. The means to that end is to ensure data sets are cited in the literature and by extension to have data sharing become an accepted part of the normal academic reward and incentives structure. You create data, you share it, someone else uses it for their research, they cite your data set in their paper, that citation is counted with the same weight as a citation to a paper.
In my circles, the answer to this question is fairly obvious. But as I was trying to explain to undergraduates how messed up scholarly publishing is, I realized it’s hard to grasp unless you already have been bruised by current practices. When you’re just learning how information works and have only gotten as far as “you ought to use scholarly sources,” it’s very puzzling indeed. So I thought I’d try to break it down.
The Federal Research Public Access Act, reintroduced today by a bipartisan assortment of politicians, would broaden the open-access requirement to nearly all federally funded research. The rationale is that taxpayers, having paid once for the research, shouldn’t have to pay again to read what was done. Today’s bill is a response to the Research Works Act, which was introduced in December. The Research Works Act would roll back NIH’s open-access policy and prohibit the government from imposing any similar policies in the future.
A great parable relating to scholarly publishing. Definitely worth a read.
The bottom line is simple: articles that many people tweeted about were 11 times more likely to be highly cited than those who few people tweeted about. Its implications are even more interesting. It generally takes months and years for papers to be cited by other scientific publications. Thus, on the day an article comes out, it would seem to be difficult to tell whether it will have a real impact on a given field. However, because the majority of tweets about journal articles occur within the first two days of publication, we now have an early signal about which research is likely to be significant.
The RWA is all about ensuring that the intellectual work of scholars and scientists will be protected as corporate property (hence the “regulatory interference” versus “private-sector” language.) Publishers control access to research in large part because they and the volunteer labor they harness have pretty much cornered the market on prestige and the imprimatur of quality (even though many high-quality open access journals do a fine job of quality publishing, peer review and all, and Elsevier was caught publishing fake journals). Publishers supporting the RWA argue the only way to properly vet new ideas is to have them pass into the capable hands of publishers, who will then charge scholars for access, either through libraries or by the piece. Ideas, trapped in their copyrighted expression like insects in amber, should forever remain under the control of the publisher as their rightful property.
Traditional scholarship didn’t work that way. Newton did not have to pay for permission to stand on the shoulders of giants. Yet scholars who climbed on others’ shoulders have long trusted that publishers support the sharing of research results. What we see now, though, is that publishers want to limit the sharing of knowledge, because their model depends on purchase, not sharing.
The footnote jousting could soon be moot, as the e-book may inadvertently be driving footnotes to extinction. The e-book hasn’t killed the book; instead, it’s killing the “page.” Today’s e-readers scroll text continuously, eliminating the single preformed page, along with any text defined by being on its bottom. A spokesman for the Kindle assured me that it is at the discretion of the publisher how to treat footnotes. Most are demoted to hyperlinked endnotes or, worst of all, unlinked endnotes that require scrolling through the e-reader to access. Few of these will be read, to be sure.
» via The New York Times (Subscription may be required for some content)