Open or shut?
Increasing numbers of high profile academics (such as danah boyd and Martin Weller for example) are turning their backs on traditional methods of research dissemination, publishing their work exclusively on free-to-read open access platforms or on their blogs. Many have openly pledged to never write, edit or review for closed journals again. Others choose to continue publishing their work in conventional peer-reviewed journals, but also disseminate their work widely through non-peer reviewed digital channels.
There are clear advantages to publishing your work by open access (see this article on open scholarship) as this article by Melanie Fullick highlights:
"...for a growing number of academics the benefits of blogging outweigh the drawbacks. Those who blog – including me – agree there are positive outcomes, such as networking and collaborating, finding new audiences and opportunities, disseminating research more widely, and building one’s reputation. Bloggers argue that far from diluting scholarly success, online writing can be a serious tool for academic practice."These are clear benefits that any academic who has blogged for a while will attest to. The opportunities of networking, discovering new audiences for your research and that rapid dissemination capabilities of the web are just a few of the benefits you cannot find easily in more traditional avenues of publication. Additionally, the potential of social media to amplify content and expand reach exponentially should also be acknowledged. But there are also disadvnatages, mainly of a political nature. Fullick highlights the disdain some academics hold for open access publishing and personal publishing through blogging:
"Peer-reviewed articles are still the benchmark for academic professionalization, and some graduate students and early-career academics feel that blogging is a waste of precious time that could be spent on “legitimate” publishing. Because it’s a form of self-publishing that lacks peer review, blogging isn’t usually viewed as a legitimate form of scholarship."Blogging and other non-conventional forms of research dissemination tend to hit a road block where tenure and promotion are concerned. They are not accepted by universities when it comes to applications for research funding either. Blogging and unconventional publishing are not for the faint hearted. Indeed, many early career researchers are forced to toe the traditional line just to stay within their posts. This is a shame, but a necessary obligation.
For established researchers and those who have gained a reputation, it's different story. The benefits of publishing your work through blogging can be huge. Some academic bloggers can boast of thousands, or even millions of views each month. Many would argue that this is what research dissemination is really all about - sharing your knowledge with as many people as quickly as possible, with maximum impact. Universities usually reject this approach because peer-review is absent from the process, and it is difficult to assure the provenance, quality, rigour and veracity of the work. Having had first hand experience of a number of closed journal review panels, I have to say that formal peer review doesn't always assure these. But the universities and the funding bodies persist in their support of this antiquated and far from effective method of research dissemination, and the dominant publishing houses rub their hands as they cash in.
And yet as increasing numbers of academics and scholars are pledging their allegiance to open scholarship and open publishing, so the blogs written by reputable scholars continue to appear. Recently, Dutch universities boycotted the publishing giant Elsevier because of its 'stranglehold' on the academic community. Academics are beginning to stand up and speak out. There is a sense that a change is in the air. We must fervently hope so, because our academic communities deserve to have access to the latest knowledge in a timely manner, in a format that is of high quality and, in an openly accessible form. What they don't deserve is for publicly funded research to be hidden behind pay walls that only a handful of academics will ever read.
Photo by Justinc on Wikimedia Commons
Open or shut? by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.