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ARL-SSRC open scholarship meeting prework interview report

Published onNov 26, 2018
ARL-SSRC open scholarship meeting prework interview report

In preparation for the December invitational meeting on open scholarship in social sciences, hosted by the Association of Research Libraries and the Social Science Research Council, I conducted a series of short pre-work interviews with people from the invitation list. They are from leading social science scholarly societies, research communities, and research libraries. The goal is to help expose each other to the range of objectives and concerns we bring to the questions we collectively face in the movement toward open scholarship. I asked about the goals they have, and the values they see, or wish to see, in the scholarly communication system.

The interviewees are all skilled communicators, and in less than half an hour each we were able to cover a lot of ground. I hope that sharing these interview excerpts will make the meeting more productive by allowing us to enter the discussion with a greater shared understanding of each other’s perspectives, concerns, and priorities. The excerpts are grouped according to the questions and themes that emerged from the responses. After the meeting, I will return to the interviews to help summarize the outcomes in a report.

Together, the video segments here run 33 minutes.


Scholarly communication is central to the mission of both academic societies represented here. Alyson Reed, executive director of the Linguistic Society of America, puts it at the center of LSA’s goals as an association.

From the library perspective, Chris Bourg, described her objective in scholarly communication as making scholarship open in all ways.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick director of digital humanities, professor of English at Michigan State University, former director of scholarly communication for the Modern Language Association, and project director for Humanities Commons, focused her statement of goals on infrastructure.

In the life sciences, where Jessica Polka works as executive director of ASAPbio, openness means more rapid dissemination, and their approach is to move communication outside the journal system.

Brian Nosek, psychology professor and director of the Center for Open Science, sees openness as an essential quality of the scholarly communication system, because the scholarship network is decentralized.

Similarly, from Jessica Polka’s perspective, open sharing and distribution of research, made possible by network technology, is what makes scholarly communication work.


Ed Liebow, executive director of the American Anthropological Association, works for four core values in scholarly communication.

Managing for sustainability and affordability, according to Alyson Reed, doesn’t mean making as much money as possible.

In Chris Bourg’s view, meeting resource needs is necessary, but that’s not the same as bring driven by economic principles.

Another important value, according to Brian Nosek, is making research accessible outside the academy.

For Ed Liebow, however, accessible doesn’t necessarily imply free.

Jessica Polka raises two additional values: Transparency and non-profit orientation.

Current challenges to values

I asked each person where they thought the current system was failing to uphold their core values, or where those values were under pressure. There were a lot of responses.

Alyson Reed expressed concern that the drive toward open scholarship would have the effect of undermining the role of societies.

Chris Bourg suggested that social sciences in particular don’t adequately center their values in their own scholarly communication practices, especially regarding evaluation.

Additionally, scholarly publishing, in her view, suffers from a lack of accountability and transparency.

According to Kathleen Fitzpatrick, lack of transparency is also a problem for some open scholarship initiatives.

Brian Nosek described a recurring concern over conflicts between values and incentives, especially regarding openness.

Incentive problems are also apparent in the growing mismatch between the demand for peer reviews and the number of people available and willing to serve as referees – a problem exacerbated by adjunctification, according to Alyson Reed:

In addition, Chris Bourg says, criteria for meaningful participation in the scholarly communication system often exclude adjuncts, to the detriment of the system.

Systems out of step

Several people suggested that journals play an outsized role in scholarly communication, which makes their flaws more consequential for other aspects of the system.

Brian Nosek reflected on the status-granting function of journals.

Journals as a genre of research are also limiting, especially in their emphasis on new and novel findings, as noted by Alyson Reed.

With current technology, Chris Bourg added, the journal format, and its attendant processes, are increasingly out of step:

If we now see that too much is invested in the process and product of journals, one caution in response, from Kathleen Fitzgerald, is to avoid trying to solve all problems with one new platform.

Ideals, aspirations, and business models

We discussed how to find a common agenda among disparate actors – principally researchers, associations, and libraries – to balance ideals, aspirations, and practical imperatives.

Ed Liebow pointed out that anthropology journals aren’t that expensive (which is also true of some other social sciences), which helps reduce the sense of a zero-sum negotiation.

However, the journal system allows societies like the American Anthropological Association to subsidize less popular journals with revenue from those that are in highest demand.

Moreover, if openness is placed above other ideals, Alyson Reed worries that other aspects of the association’s mission will be compromised.

Setting high ideals does not mean having unreasonable expectations, according to Brian Nosek:

Further, if scholarly communication is central to the mission of academic societies, that doesn’t have to imply the current subscription-based business model.

Models of change

We discussed some general and some specific ideas about the move toward openness in scholarly communication.

For innovations that don’t inherently threaten the existing publishing model, Jessica Polka offers preprints as an exemplar – successful in the life sciences – for evolution within the existing ecosystem.

On the other hand, Alyson Reed was critical of a more comprehensive proposal, Europe’s Plan S.

One of the conversations that led to his meeting was about academy-owned scholarly communication. Kathleen Fitzpatrick warns against individual universities acting on their own, which can lead to unhealthy dependencies.

If the publishing business model of societies is under threat, can academy-owned systems help accomplish a transition to a new model? Jessica Polka hopes so.

With regard to the scale of possible new interventions, Chris Bourg is excited about big ideas in targeted areas.


I hope this presentation of perspectives and ideas helps propel a fruitful conversation at the meeting in DC.

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