Open access is not enough; we must learn how to communicate our research to make it truly accessible 2012-05-18


“The movement to make academic literature freely available, dubbed the Academic Spring, is gaining momentum, having recently obtained the support of both the Department of Education and Harvard University. Advocates have built a solid case, citing the burden of subscription costs borne by universities, as well as the limitations on sharing information that characterises the existing system. As proponents have rightly argued, freeing academic literature will increase readership, by some estimates up to 250%... Interestingly, however, this debate has been confined to the sciences, with those in the humanities and social sciences having remained silent, Lucy Montgomery’s post in this blog being a notable exception. This is unfortunate, as the humanities and social sciences in particular have been forced to navigate stormy straits lately, often bearing the brunt of austerity budget cuts. Rather than ignoring the debate over publishing, those of us in these fields should embrace it is an opportunity to reevaluate how our disciplines are to flourish in the coming decades. The Academic Spring’s shock troops tout the sharing of information between academics, and the ability to reach people beyond the ivory tower, as being two of the benefits offered by free access. Closer examination of what this would mean for the humanities and social sciences makes it evident that, in both cases, it is likely that free access to academic literature would have much less impact than in the sciences, as existing structural and conceptual problems would prevent these improvements from bearing fruit. Firstly, facilitating sharing will do little to change what amounts to a bunker mentality that exists in academia. Departments continue to be segregated from each other, resulting in many researchers who avoid material in other fields either out of obstinacy or ignorance. Secondly, free access to journals will not encourage a wider audience to read academic literature when so much of it continues to be dull and esoteric, even to experts... skilled academics in the humanities and social sciences can often present even academic literature in an intelligible and engaging manner. Yet from grad school on, little emphasis is placed on presenting quality research in a way that facilitates reading it... The popular historian Barbara Tuchman once said that not going to grad school saved her as a historian. ‘If I had taken a doctoral degree,’ she quipped, ‘it would have stifled my writing capacity…’ The issues preventing sharing and outreach in the humanities and social sciences are structural and conceptual... Only more institutional links between departments, and a greater willingness to explore research in other fields, will facilitate true sharing between departments. Tackling both this and the propensity for dull writing must begin in graduate school. It requires greater emphasis on developing editing skills and an appreciation that the impact of one’s research will only be heightened by making it easier (dare I say enjoyable?) for our audience to read and comprehend. Most importantly, the humanities and social sciences must negotiate between the pursuit of knowledge and truth on the one hand and – without pandering – making research intelligible to others, both inside and out of academia; it must utilise new technology, such as podcasting and free online classes to reach out to students and the general public while preserving intimate seminars and tutorials which foster greater interaction and crucial critical thinking...”



08/16/2012, 06:08

From feeds:

Open Access Tracking Project (OATP) »

Tags: oa.policies oa.comment oa.government oa.advocacy oa.libraries oa.humanities oa.recommendations oa.harvard.u oa.budgets oa.debates oa.encouragement oa.ssh



Date tagged:

05/18/2012, 11:55

Date published:

05/18/2012, 12:06