open access (go Harvard!) and peer review

After seeing versions of this headline — At Harvard, a Proposal to Publish Free on the Web — all day yesterday in my feeds I was actually waiting with bated breath to see what the outcome of the vote would be. Weren’t you? Okay, probably not. But some people wrote the headline in ways that made it seem like the vote had already happened, like this one — Open Access at Harvard – Seriously — and I would get all excited and click on it to find out what happened. Only to find out that we didn’t know yet. After a few of those, my breath started to get more bated.

But now we do know – and it’s a YES.

The gist of the story is this, yesterday the Harvard Arts and Sciences faculty voted on a policy that requires faculty to post their published scholarly work in a free, open-access repository. In other words, if a journal refuses to let an author do that, this policy says that Harvard A&S faculty won’t write for that journal.

It’s not absolute. Faculty authors can apply for waivers that will allow them to opt-out of the repository. But that’s exactly the opposite of the situation on most campuses, where including one’s work in a scholarly respository is an opt-in thing. And getting faculty to opt in is one of the more difficult things many libraries are trying to do.

I think one reason that I was so invested in the outcome of this story is the discussion/debate that’s made its way across most of my listservs and a lot of my regular blog reads over the last few weeks sparked by this post on danah boyd’s blog.

Not really getting into the details of that discussion (if you’re interested, I thought Anne Galloway’s response to the initial post was pretty great, and clear about why people were bothered by it) one thing that kept coming up, and kept bothering me was the way that discussions about boyd’s initial post would quickly shift into discussions about the need for or value of peer review.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good debate on those questions, but open access doesn’t immediately mean publishing free for all where no one evaluates the quality of anything. Never has, and I don’t think it ever will. But that’s where discussion after discussion seemed to end up. If you want to see what I mean, check out this thread on Air-L.

For a taste of what’s going on, check out the initial post by Barry Wellman, and the responses by Jimmy Wales and Jeremy Hunsinger I like this thread as an example of what I’m talking about because Wellman pretty quickly realizes that he’s conflated some issues and issues a correction. Most of the discussions I read weren’t started or continued by people who really think that if anyone can find an article than that article must have been written for the lowest common denominator. It’s more like something about the word “open” (or maybe it was the word “closed,” as in “closed journals”) pushes people’s minds to the question of audience, authority and peer review. And I started to get really worried about that — it made me think a lot about how much farther open access still needs to go in just communicating the issues and defining the terms.
So yes, Harvard’s just one school. And yes, this was the Arts and Sciences faculty, not everyone. But on the heels of this from the NIH, it’s pretty exciting.

(And yes, the second comment on the Inside Higher Ed article claims that this is the “academic equivalent of relaxed fit jeans” – that’s harshing on my happy moment just a bit)

scholarship and peer review and 2.0

Over the last few days, i’ve been seeing some similar projects popping up on the landscape — or, rather, fairly different projects tied together by a common thread. The thread is one of particular interest to me – how will things like peer review and traditional media publishing integrate with new ways of communicating and working with information made possible by emerging technologies? Or will they?

So for now, I’m just going to mention some of these things – and undoubtedly follow up with a bunch of tl; dr posts later on the topic.

First from if:book – they’ve adaptated CommentPress to serve as a peer-reviewing tool for a new book project from MIT press. The book is Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies, by Noah Wardrip-Fruin.

CommentPress has been around for a while – it lets a blog owner allow their readers to comment not only on blog posts, but on particular pieces of blog posts. The reader can pinpoint the argument or the example they want to address, allowing for a different kind of intellectual dialogue about a blog’s content. This is an all-or-nothing decision, you either make your whole blog comment-able in this way, or you don’t.

So you could use CommentPress for peer review before, fairly easily. You just need to set up a WordPress blog that holds the content of your book, article, or set of articles, and let the readers go with it. CommentPress allows them to comment on individual sections, or to make meta-comments on entire posts or pages. Your initial text isn’t revised by the process, making this more like peer review than like the collaborative authoring that would happen if you used a wiki for the same purpose.

One thing that makes the Expressive Processing example different is that the CommentPress level of commentary is only available on some of the posts in the blog. The book is being released, in parts, on an established blog – Grand Text Auto. GTA is a group blog focused on discussion of new media expressions — digital fictions, narratives, poetry, games, and more — with archives going back to 2003. Reviewers will be able to parse the posts where the book is made available down using CommentPress, while the normal discourse generated by the blog continues on the other posts.

I find this interesting because of the way it recognizes the importance of the existing community on this blog. If they’d gone the “special site for the book” route, I’ve no doubt that a community would have formed there (and would have included many members of this one). But the community would have been different, and the resulting discourse would have been different. This definitely bears thinking more about — I’ve been thinking for a while that these knowledge communities that grow up around certain blogs are a powerful thing and I think this project could potentially get at that.

More comments on this experiment at:
Planned Obsolescence and The Chronicle (free for now)

This morning’s experiment comes on the heels of this essay by Alex Reid in Digital Digs, one of my favorite sources for thoughtful commentary on new forms of scholarship. Reid is going to be co-editing the Praxis section of the online journal Kairos, and he muses here about one of the dilemmas inherent in any discussion of new scholarship — how can participating in open, social, collaborative scholarly projects give the kind of professional currency academics need to justify the time and effort their participation requires?

We all know this is an issue – Rachel and I have struggled with it for a few years now with the Library Instruction Wiki, and that’s a fairly simple and straightforward project. While it’s possible that someone might decide to edit or change an entry in our wiki so that the “authorship” of a particular instruction tool wouldn’t be as clear, it’s not very likely that that would happen.

Reid is specifically talking about another wiki Kairos’ PraxisWiki, which was also created as a way for people to share thoughts and commentary about the use of classroom technologies. Still, they’re struggling with how to make contributions “count” enough for academics to use it as a way to communicate ideas. I think he’s spot-on with his diagnosis of the problem — how can we ask academics, whose professional futures depend on their ability to demonstrate the impact of their work to spend their time and effort on us if we don’t give them a way to demonstrate the impact of that work?

Reid doesn’t have any great answers yet either, but I like his idea of thinking of this participation like conference participation. I’ve long wondered if participation in online communities, contributing to the Library Instruction Wiki and blogging isn’t more a type of professional service than scholarship — maybe that’s a useful line of inquiry.

Shaun talked about something similar the other day – on how we value “popular writing” in academia.

Finally, there’s this fascinating discussion thread at Scientific American — asking readers to weigh in on “Science 2.0.” Not surprisingly, reactions fall all over the place. I wasn’t expecting anyone to make the argument that openness in scientific communication would lead to physical injury, but they do. Anyway, lots of food for thought there.

Undoubtedly, much more to come…