Beyond Open Access A framework for openness in scholarly communication - New Trends in eHumanities

Clifford Tatum, Centre for Science and Technology Studies Leiden University


October 27, 2011

Beyond Open Access: A framework for openness in scholarly communication
In spite of broad support across disciplines, only a small percentage of scientific and scholarly publications are available through open access. At the same time, increased openness among informal modes of scholarly communication is challenging normative conceptions of open science. The juxtaposition of widespread adherence to traditional publishing models, which are typically not open access, and increased openness among informal modes of scholarly communication raises some interesting questions about emerging new configurations of open science.

On one hand, academic publishing, also known as formal scholarly communication, is slow to change in the face of vast potentials for using digital media to increase openness. Publication of research output is a fundamental component in scientific progress. New knowledge builds on existing knowledge and publication of new knowledge creates possibilities for future knowledge. Publishing also plays a crucial role in the careers of individual researchers. Open Access has been shown to increase the dissemination of new knowledge, however full adoption seems to be stalled. On the other hand, there are presently a wide variety of openness initiatives within the realm of informal scholarly communication. Such projects include, for example, enhanced publications, draft-manuscript repositories, linked-data repositories, open lab notebooks, academic blogs, and implementation of structured content ontologies. These projects are demonstrating new possibilities of openness related to increased transparency and improved content interoperability. This is possible in part because the realm of informal scholarly communication is typically not included in the formal metrics of scientific impact and individual career advancement. Informality can facilitate innovation and experimentation, but it also complicates systematic analysis of whether, and in what ways, these new configurations of openness contribute to open science.

Openness has evolved differently in formal and informal communication contexts. In the existing research on scholarly communication, the formal component is typically privileged over the informal. This means we know considerably less about informal scholarly communication, which has become an interesting context for emerging forms of open science. To address this, I propose an analytical framework that foregrounds the relationship between human agency and social structures with regard to technological systems. As such, analytical focus is aimed at individual acts of openness framed as the result of interaction between human agency, social structure in the form of situated practices, and material structure in the form of digital media.