Saturday, January 16, 2010

Open and Evolving Scholarship

The internet has opened up new potentials for scholarship, potentials that we are only now just beginning to explore. As scholarship evolves, one of the signs of progress will be multiple versions. At first, some people will find this a challenging change; it is clearly different from the static print form. Because this change is part of the evolution of scholarship and brings both current and emerging innovations that will vastly improve scholarship, it is both necessary and desirable to embrace a variety of versions.

In a print-based world of scholarship, it was enough to have a single version of a journal article. There were significant costs involved in typesetting, printing, and mailing; while a few disciplines, such as physics and economics, have a history of sharing preprints even in the print era, most did not.

Already, it is possible for a research project to be published in numerous versions in a way that advances scholarship and makes it more accessible to all.

Here are some examples of how a research project can currently be shared in multiple versions. Not everyone will want to pursue all these approaches to sharing, and that is fine. Every discipline has its own traditions, every researcher their own comfort level with various types of sharing, and limited time.

Before the research begins: researchers can share their research questions, grant applications, or early plans. Benefits for the researcher include:
  • the possibility of early peer review (if there is a problem with the question or approach - why not find out before you start the project, rather than after when the paper is done?)
  • the possibility of finding collaborators to expand your research project (this has happened to me! - see Greyson et al,, University Supports for Open Access, Canadian Journal of Higher Education 2010, forthcoming); Taylor et al, Open Access Journal Supports (in progress)
  • establishing priority
When the research is done: researchers can post openly a preprint, open data, conference presentation prior to final publication, or peer-reviewed postprint.

Benefits for the researcher include:
  • the open access citation advantage
  • possibility of early peer review when early forms (preprint, conference presentation) are shared
  • other researchers can confirm results of rigorous studies when data is shared openly
Alternative versions and libre open access: in addition to these multiple versions of the research report per se, researchers can post alternative versions, or facilitate their creation by providing full libre open access including re-use rights. Examples of such alternative versions:
  • abbreviated versions for the author's blog, scholarly newsletters or listservs
  • audiovisual presentations (e.g. the YouTube version)
  • translations into different languages, whether automated as through google's language services or manual
  • translations into alternative formats to serve a wider variety of readers, e.g. audio or daisy versions for the print disabled
  • translation into versions for lay or custom readerships, an emerging possibility for the scholarly-minded journalist or freelance writer (sometimes this will include the author)
In order to take full advantage of all of these potentials, and others of which I have not yet dreamed, it is necessary to let go of the idea that there is one single version of a research article. Approaches to citation need to evolve as well; this is not as confusing as it might seem. If there are multiple versions of an item - cite what you read. If there is another version you think readers should be alerted to, add this to the citation. For example, if you are cited a locked-down subscription version but know that a free version is available, add the URL to the free version as a service to your readers.

Multiple versions is not a new idea. For years, books have been published in multiple editions. There has never been a need to decide that one version was the authoritative version for all time, and there have been many an occasion when it was useful research to compare the differences between one edition and another.

Some useful examples of multiple versions in action: Living Reviews, an online open access peer reviewed service in which the review articles are kept up to date by their authors; the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in which invited articles by experts are periodically updated (and archived on a quarterly basis for citation and preservation purposes); and Charles Bailey's bibliographies, updated frequently and available at Digital Koans. Jean-Claude Bradley and colleague's Useful Chemistry is a great illustration of sharing of research-in-progress.