Freedom of information, thought, discussion and critique
An interesting column came up from the London School of Economics on academic publishing. Traditionally when an academic wants to publish it is done to a Journal and goes through a rigorous process including peer reviews. Once the paper is published then the rest of us struggle to get access to said paper unless a Tertiary Institution pays a small fortune for access, we pay a small fortune for one time access or it gets lost in translation somewhere (time from paper submitted, getting peer-reviewed and finally published to which it took so long the information is pretty much useless). To make matters just that more raw the academic who wrote the paper will not often be paid for writing it but the journal that stores the paper gets royalties from access fees.
Some Tweets I saw on the matter some it up:
The smartest business model ever. Have all of your products and services performed for free by researchers, and then sell it back to them with an unholy markup. Try describing the model to a non-researcher, and they mock us for falling for it. https://t.co/dOv5MgKlHM
— Jon Tennant (@Protohedgehog) April 15, 2018
Nature and other Springer journals make all of their money from free labor provided by scientists, who write all the papers and do all of the peer review. And now they are cashing in: “Springer Nature aims to raise 1.2 billion euros in new money in IPO” https://t.co/fKSOdMbxmo
— Steven Salzberg (@StevenSalzberg1) April 14, 2018
You can tell something essentially smells.
It makes the LSE post on communicating academic information stand out even more.
From the London School of Economics:
Shorter, better, faster, free: Blogging changes the nature of academic research, not just how it is communicated
Academic blogging gets your work and research out to a potentially massive audience at very, very low cost and relative amount of effort. Patrick Dunleavy argues blogging and tweeting from multi-author blogs especially is a great way to build knowledge of your work, to grow readership of useful articles and research reports, to build up citations, and to foster debate across academia, government, civil society and the public in general.
One of the recurring themes (from many different contributors) on the LSE Impact of Social Science blog is that a new paradigm of research communications has grown up — one that de-emphasizes the traditional journals route, and re-prioritizes faster, real-time academic communication. Blogs play a critical intermediate role. They link to research reports and articles on the one hand, and they are linked to from Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Google+ news-streams and communities. So in research terms blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.
But in addition, STEM scientists, social scientists and humanities scholars all have an obligation to society to contribute their observations to the wider world. At the moment that’s often being done
- in ramshackle and impoverished ways
- in pointlessly obscure or charged-for forums
- in difficult language where you need to look up every second word in Wikipedia. Some of this is necessary for condensed specialist communication. But much of it is just unneeded jargon and poor writing dressed up as necessary vocabulary
- with acres of ‘dead-on-arrival’ data (that will never be used by anyone else in the world), often presented in unreadable tables
- and all delivered over bizarrely long-winded timescales. From submission to publication in some top economics journals now takes 3.5 years. At the end of such a process any published paper is no more than a tombstone marking where happening debate and knowledge used to be, four or five years earlier.
So the public pay for all or much of our research (especially in Europe and Australasia). And then we shunt back to them a few press releases and a lot of out-of-date, arcanely phrased academic junk.
Types of blogs
A lot of people think that all blogs are solo blogs, but this is a completely out of date view. A ‘blog’ is defined by Wikipedia as:
‘a truncation of the expression web log… [It] is a discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web and consisting of discrete entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first). Until 2009 blogs were usually the work of a single individual, occasionally of a small group, and often covered a single subject. More recently “multi-author blogs” (MABs) have developed, with posts written by large numbers of authors and professionally edited. MABs from newspapers, other media outlets, universities, think tanks, advocacy groups and similar institutions account for an increasing quantity of blog traffic. The rise of Twitter and other “microblogging” systems helps integrate MABs and single-author blogs into societal newstreams’. [Accessed 29 August 2014]. (Let me pause here to reassure some academic readers who may be bristling at being asked to read Wikipedia text – I know this passage is sound since I co-wrote much of it).
Actually the evolution of academic blogs specifically has now progressed even further, so that we can distinguish group or collaborative blogs as an important intermediate type between solo blogs and multi-author blogs. The two tables below summarize how these three types of blogs now work, drawing attention to their very different advantages and disadvantages.
Why blogging works in academia
Blogging (supported by academic tweeting) helps academics break free from all the legacy practices I covered at the beginning of this post, although to differing extents, because:
- It’s quick to do in real time. It taps academic expertise when it’s relevant, and so lets academics look forward and speculate in evidence-based yet timely ways. Esoteric knowledge and accumulated wisdom that might previously have been shared with four or five people over lunch in the Senior Common Room, or the PhD hangout, now gets out into the public domain, and can be read, tracked, emulated or contested.
- It communicates bottom-line results and ‘take aways’ in clear language, yet with due regard to methods issues and quality of evidence. Twitter is a huge supplementary help, in forcing academics to communicate key messages in 140 characters!
- Multi-author blogs especially help create multi-disciplinary understanding and the joining-up of previously siloed knowledge. They hugely reduce the barriers involved in keeping abreast of a wide range of knowledge, or in finding out for the first time about a subject or debate or field of work that is new to you. All the LSE family of blogs, for instance, cover 40+ different social sciences (and some related) areas like architecture, city planning and technology. Our EUROPP blog pools within this large discipline group for 50 countries in Europe, and our USAPP blog has the same focus for the United States, Canada and Mexico. The LSE Review of Books and the LSE Impacts blog both range even more widely, incorporating history, philosophy, media and cultural analyses that span across the social sciences and the humanities, and some fringe aspects of the huge STEM disciplines group. An enlarged disciplinary range that was once just the province of a few exceptional publications and magazines (like Scientific American or the Economist) becomes a lot more accessible to a much wider audience. Group blogs have lesser cross-disciplinary effects, because they are rarely widely visible — usually only insiders find them. But they contribute greatly to better communication within disciplines, and so they can help reduce barriers to learning by being passed on to well-informed or persistent outsiders to the discipline.
- Blogging thus creates a vastly enlarged foundation for the development of ‘bridging’ academics, with real inter-disciplinary competences, honed by lots of interactions with people in other academic silos. By the 1980s the siloing of science and scholarship in reductionist mode meant that there was a sharply diminished potential for inter-disciplinary understanding. At that low point the bridging role was exploited only by a few ‘public intellectuals’ (on whom excessive attention is still focused). But now this key ‘bridging’ role is once again beginning to become a far wider-scale competency.
- Blogging can also support in a novel and stimulating way the traditional role of a university as an agent of ‘local integration’ across multiple disciplines. This capability is especially important now at the many interfaces between the social sciences and the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines, where co-operation across silos and growing genuinely trans-disciplinary research are increasingly salient for societal progress.
This piece originally appeared on the Writing for Research blog and is reposted with permission.
Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.
About the Author
Patrick Dunleavy is Professor of Political Science at the LSE and is Chair of the LSE Public Policy Group. He is well known for his book Authoring a PhD: How to plan, draft, write and finish a doctoral dissertation or thesis (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
Full post and source: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/12/28/shorter-better-faster-free/
Effectively to remain nimble in an increasingly digital word more emphasis and play needs to be put on the 5th Estate (social media) if traditional forms can not keep up (and charging eye-watering access fees is certainly not keeping up).
To me academic information should be shared freely across the divide – both academic and non academic realms. Freedom of information and free access to that information promotes a stronger society and a society more resistant to the era of Trump and (yes going to Godwin here) Nazi era before that.
While I know I run a solo blog that mixes commentary with news releases and ‘proposals/ideas’ Talking Southern Auckland for its small size has done well in projecting or advocating ideas and proposals across the Local and Central Government realms.
The blog also works very well as a digital repository of information that can be called on quickly when the need arises.
Currently a debate about housing and transport to relieve pressure on Auckland has come up again. Subsequently thanks to the blog I can quickly pull up my own material on the subject and share it to interested parties having a debate about the subject – see: Guest Lecture: Inter-Regional Planning and Sustainability
Given inter-regional planning falls under Urban Geography which is my ‘niche’ (as it were) being able to communicate urban geographic ideas benefiting New Zealand I like to see as a win and progress.
As with any communication medium there are strengths and challenges. However, those strengths and challenges can always be built upon or from and make communicating academia across the digital realm more accessible and most of all equitable to everyone!