On the Oxford Dictionary’s Choice of “Post-truth” as the Word of the Year.

What a mess: Turns out my enthusiastic use of Facebook over the last years ended in a semantic cul-de-sac. Like millions, I handed over my personal interests, preferences, and personality traits (“which Sherlock Holmes are you?”) to an invisible data-glutton who diligently digested all my information and spewed it back at me in the form of a tailor-made feed where I found little to disagree with. Recently, my time to read newspapers became ever more scarce, while the convenience of finding “all I need to know” on FB lulled me into a false sense of security. Now it is clear that what I had considered to be “the situation” turned out to be an incredibly skewed vision of reality. Like so many after Trump’s election and Brexit, I am shocked to realize that I have no idea any more what is true and what isn’t. As of today, the jargon expression I’d been using for a while to describe this state of affairs has become an official word with a pedigree: post-truth.

What does this mean for scholarly communication? Here, too, the foundations of what is and what isn’t true have been shaken. Peer-review has taken a hit as a bastion of quality control; the reproducibility crisis put a dent into the credibility of STEM research. The humanities and social sciences have been grappling with the post-modernist legacy of “there is no truth” for decades.

What is left? Technology? Possibly, but we need to ask ourselves whether we are building things for the betterment of life or because we want to hand over more and more tasks and thus responsibility for our lives to non-human intelligence. What is at the end of that rainbow? The discussions will have to continue!

Perhaps truth (absolute or otherwise) is over; nevertheless, if we want to co-exist peacefully, we will have to agree on what we consider important and beneficial to all. Rebuilding a social consensus is going to be very difficult and a lot of work. We will have to reestablish the meaning of concepts such as “democracy”, “freedom”, “security”, “privacy”, “community”, or “accountability”. We will have to continue to improve the way we disseminate and vet information and research results. And, as I argued yesterday, we will have to get better at communicating our work to everyone – not just those within our algorithmically curated information-bubbles.

Help Us, Academia, You Are Our Only Hope.

obi-wan

Yesterday, The Scholarly Kitchen’s David Crotty reflected on the presidential omnishambles in his piece “The US Election, a Need for Curation, and the Power of Story”. He offers two points: the first – which is well taken – tackles the role of Facebook and its information bubbles built by algorithms.

Crotty’s other point is the lack of a narrative for scholarly publishing. He writes:

We are notoriously poor at telling our story. We know we do something valuable, but what we do is often subtle and unseen, and when we start describing it, we get lost in the details and the caveats. At that point, we’ve lost our audience.

For the last decade and a half, we have been trying to counter an argument that all publishers are greedy corporations, reaping massive profits, and bent on stopping cancer patients from reading about their conditions. Or one that publishers steal the hard work of researchers and then sell that work back to them at exorbitant prices. Neither of these arguments is particularly true, but both resonate emotionally. That’s hard to counter with wonky charts showing declines in cost-per-use or cost-per-citation or an in-depth explanation of the peer review process. Rooting for a self-declared Luke Skywalker over someone they’re accusing of being Darth Vader is much easier to get behind than understanding the subtleties of a complex service industry.

While the bit Crotty describes as “not particularly true” is, well, debatable, the rot in scholarly communication runs much deeper. “People of this country have had enough of experts”, opined Michael Gove just before Brexit. At that moment, scholarly communication was handed the bill for failing spectacularly at making itself understood, relevant, and persuasive. This is not just due to pay walls or too many facts to make a convincing case; the bitter truth is that an increasingly incomprehensible ivory tower – and the academic publishing industry is part of it – has utterly disconnected from the wider public.

The thing is, good writers are incredibly rare in academia and editors are by now seen as a luxury most publishers cannot afford. Both exist almost in spite of a system that on the one hand is insatiable when it comes to new content but on the other considers rhetorical skills and the craft of writing to be a given. Yes, there are writing programs here and there, additional courses offered by graduate academies and the like, but the fundamental skills of communication have not really been at the core of our education for a long time. And now it shows. We get lost in technicalities, unable to clearly convey the bigger picture and relevance of what we do. We cannot thrill, excite, and stimulate a wider audience with our discoveries because we never really learned how to formulate and produce a good story. Our tales are boring, disjointed, and more often than not a stylistic nightmare. Who wants to read this stuff?

While the hour is late to own up to this, it is good that we realize the problem not only in the US and Britain but also in Europe. Here too the concern over a missing narrative is manifesting itself. In yesterday’s Forward the Commons! A unifying political vision for Europe the authors call for a positive counter-narrative:

The crisis of the European Union begs for new, unifying and constructive narratives – alternatives to the right-wing populist and nationalist wave that is getting fiercer every day. A commons approach holds the potential for a unified vision towards an alternative economy, a Europe from the bottom up and an ecological way of life.

It remains to be seen whether such a vision will convince those Europeans who are already under the spell of the fear-mongering, anti-intellectual tales of “us vs. them” that characterize so many of our right-wing demagogues. The would-be authors need to remember that a good story needs conflict and a hero, a familiar structure and a touch of magic. Take Trump’s slogan “Make America great again”. Its disconcerting genius lies in the fact that it distilled all these elements into four words.

But finding these crucial structural ingredients will not be enough. To quote Pulitzer, the authors of an alternative narrative will have to:

Put it before them briefly so that they will read it,
Clearly so they will appreciate it,
Picturesquely so they will remember it,
And, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.

It is foolish to think that such skills just somehow appear. They need to be learned. Enter another crucial element of any good story: the mentor. Who other than academia can fill the role of the Merlins, Gandalfs, and Obi Wan Kenobis? If scholarly publishing once more considers the readability of content as an important hallmark of quality and academia rediscovers its duty of preparing folks with the communicative tools for a reflected, well-informed life, then we may be able to at least adjust the narrative and look to brighter days ahead.

The Dust Still Hasn’t Settled. Reading the Results from Science Europe and Global Research Council Surveys

Last month Science Europe published a survey report on Open Access Publishing Policies in its Member Organisations. Based on two surveys conducted in 2012 and 2014 respectively it casts light on the progress – or lack thereof – in the implementation of #OA across the disciplines.
The data for the report is based exclusively on information provided by Research Funding Organisations and Research Performing Organizations who participated in both surveys. While methodologically this is a sound decision, it considerably limits the representative value of the exercise. A glance at the participants shows that most information was culled from (Western) Europe. With the exception of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary, Eastern Europe is absent from the survey. Considering that the 2014 survey was of global scope, the reach of the results shrinks even more.
Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction. Considering the ongoing fluctuation of the publishing landscape, the breakneck speed of technical developments, and the recent political upheavals that may yet play a role in the further pursuit of transnational open access to research, it is helpful and encouraging to see the first steps toward an overview coming from the very organisations who, in my opinion, hold the key to the success of the transition.
The report conveys a sense of direction and awareness of pressing issues, such as supporting new initiatives or establishing technical standards, which are crucial in the steps ahead. On the other hand, it also becomes clear that the mills do grind very slowly indeed: there is little more than encouragement and suggestion – we are still a far cry from a pan-European (leave alone international) Open Access Policy with bite.

Twitter Open Access Report – 25 May 2016

The big news lately is that Elsevier has acquired @SSRN (the Social Science Research Network), the world’s biggest repository for the social sciences and humanities (source: @d_mainwaring). As one might expect, there were some responses.

Whatever happens, this is definitely worth keeping an eye on over the next few months.

The IDPF and the W3C have announced plans to join forces “to more quickly advance publishing technologies on the Open Web Platform.” The internet had some thoughts on that:

The “Green Light for Open Access Conference” took place in Amsterdam last week. @LIBEReurope has a recap here,  and you can see the program and links to presentations at the Pasteur40A website, and lots of follow-up Tweets on their Twitter page.

ScienceOpen.com is running a series of interviews in which they discuss the background, current state, and further development of Open Science with a number of folks currently in the trenches from a wide range of disciplines and locations. The aggregate result is a terrific overview of the movement and a wide range of educated opinions. Definitely worth reading.
Source: @Protohedgehog

In “Economic Thoughts about Gold Open Access“, an economist ruminates on whether flipping to gold open access would be financially viable. Spoiler alert: It would! But go read the post anyway, and the very interesting discussion in the comments.
Source: @MikeTaylor

As you may recall, around this time last year we reported on a Max Planck Society white paper showing that flipping would be cost-neutral, or even cheaper.  Björn Brembs asks why we haven’t done that yet.  If there is an answer to this question, I suspect it involves the phrase “herding cats”.
Source: @ForgottenGenius, @brembs

The OPEN Government Data Act, introduced in the US House of Representatives, will make open government data the default, in keeping with a 2013 executive order [pdf] issued by President Obama. A companion bill will be introduced in the Senate. You can also read section summaries [pdf].

Transport for London (@TfL) has opened its data feed to developers. Here’s the article, and here’s a link to the data. Can’t wait to see what they come up with!

For those of us whose attention has been elsewhere for the past few months, Tom Steinberg wrote a critique of the open data movement’s progress, combined with a nice state of play.

Outsourcing Editing? Part II

Last fall, I wrote about the financial challenges of quality copy editing. The post grew out of having to develop a new editing workflow and a sustainable business model for our local publications. My plan was, as I wrote in October, to pursue contracts with some of our long-time freelancers and one or two additional providers. They arranged for a series of editing samples that tackled an excerpt from one of our typical texts. The quality was good and the price seemed fair but while we were negotiating, my erstwhile strategy was overtaken by developments within the university administration, which made outsourcing a lot more complicated.

With this change of administrative goalposts came the realization that we would have to produce Issue 2/2015 of our e-journal Transcultural Studies completely in-house because we would not be able to reorganize the outsourcing workflow in time for publication. It was only the second time we had to handle everything from submission to publication without the assistance of a freelancer. However, we did well: When we went live just before Christmas it had become evident that our team, consisting of two copy-editors, one layout-specialist and two assistants (all on part-time student assistant contracts except for one copy-editor who holds a 50% editorial assistant position), had grown enough to accomplish the production (read: from copy-edit to publication) of a book-length project (130 and 289 pages respectively) in about seven weeks. This includes two rounds of changes by the authors, as well as the production of pdfs (InDesign) and an html version.

After some internal discussions with the powers that be, we decided to shelve all negotiations with freelancers and instead test our internal workflow further with a larger manuscript. The project that became our next guinea pig contains some 25 essays of varying length and uneven linguistic quality, written—like most of our submissions—in English by non-native speakers. In short, this project was several times the size of the e-journal issue we had just tackled.

The task really stretched our capacities: First, we learned that our project management needs fine-tuning. There were redundancies due to oversights and varying competencies. We format according to the Chicago Manual of Style and some team members are more familiar with it than others, which translated into repeated rounds of checking. This is no big deal for an essay or two, but when there are two dozen essays to edit, this can consume many hours. Further developing copy-editing skills is therefore high on our agenda.

Second, there are divergent approaches to editing within the team. Some edit with a more pedagogical bent because they usually deal with student papers. Others come from a publishing background and approach problem solving in a more fait accompli way. The former may tell the author the nature of their mistakes, while the latter offer a take-it-or-leave-it alternative formulation instead. Both approaches have their merits and we will have to find an editing style that combines the best of both without prolonging the overall publication process.

Last but not least, we grappled with the question of how perfect a manuscript can get before it goes into layout. It is part of a good editor’s skill set to know when to let go and come to terms with the fact that no manuscript will ever be flawless. All editors have to weigh between production costs and perfect formulation and formatting. In all my years on the job, I have never been in a win-win situation when it comes to this. Something always has to give. How much that is or when the right time has come to let go is something that as a team we have to agree on.

In the end we took too many hours for the copy-edit. It would have been undoubtedly cheaper to outsource the task to a freelancer for a fixed price. But I consider the difference as an investment. As we hone our skills, we will get better and faster and thus more cost-effective. Since the next excellence initiative is around the corner and the tremendous challenges of publishing competitive English-language output in the humanities and social sciences by non-native authors is unlikely to go away, an experienced resident editing team will be able to offer indispensable support not only to in-house  publication projects, but also to resident scholars who wish to place their work with high-profile international publishing houses.

We received the next book manuscript a couple of weeks ago for copy-edit. Let’s see how much we have improved. Part three on this topic will follow.

 

Twitter Open Access Report – 21 January 2016

PLOS has an interview with John Willinsky on where open access publishing is headed, a very interesting update from a pioneer in the field. You can listen to the “PLOScast” (heh) here.

It’s the Netherlands’ turn to head up the EU Council, and it looks like they’ve hit the ground running: Education Minister Sander Dekker is using the opportunity to push for wider implementation of open access in scientific journals, and a conference on Open Science is scheduled for early April. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Bert Koenders is challenging app developers to come up with ways to make better use of open data. But wait, there’s more! Should be an interesting six months.

Can open data solve some of the PR problems that have plagued police forces in the United States have had recently? Seattle’s City Council is pushing its police department to open access to their data on civilian complaints and discipline. They hope this will cut the costs associated with disclosure requests, and increase police accountability. The Stranger has the story here.
Source: @RickyPo

The Guardian reports that ODINE, the Open Data Incubator Europe, has announced its next round of startup grant recipients, including, among others, an Austrian effort to increase public access to legal information; a Finnish app that will tell you whether your roof wants solar panels; and a German initiative to clean up city air – a timely idea, since the city of Stuttgart has an air pollution alert in effect this week.

Another Guardian article (also sponsored by ODINE) sees open data having a profound effect on activism and charity in the coming year. Governments will start to see data as infrastructure, journalists and charities will make better use of data to hold governments accountable, activists will start working to fill the gaps, data literacy will come to be regarded as a basic skill, and technology will race to keep up with the changes.

The peer review process has come under scrutiny lately, with some arguing that the process needs to be more transparent. Some like-minded academics have now launched the Peer Reviewers Openness Initiative: put simply, the Initiative asks that “reviewers make open practices a pre-condition for more comprehensive review.” You can read more about it and add your name here.
Source: @SciPubLab

A Canadian site has an interesting post on How Open and Free Content Will Transform Post-Secondary Education, which lays out the reasons for and implications of open educational resources and points out that we are in the middle of a massive paradigm shift. I kind of knew that, but it is good to be reminded.
Source: @RickyPo

A white paper on MOOCs (in German) asks whether MOOCs are hype or helpful, and concludes that they won’t revolutionize education, but they will become increasingly important, and schools should engage with them or risk being sidelined. You can read a more detailed summary or download the paper from here.
Source: @ayeshaasifkhan

The Conversation has an editorial suggesting that teaching students to write better would help them avoid plagiarism. I’d say it has a great many benefits other than that, but sure: if that’s what it takes to persuade more universities to teach students how to write, rather than assuming they’ll bring that skill to college with them, then let’s focus on that aspect. Whatever gets them in the door.
Source: @ConversationUK

Recent Conferences

Knowledge Exchange celebrated their 10-year anniversary in Helsinki on 30 November and 1 December last year. Here is a two-part Storify: Part 1. Part 2. And #KEevent15 has some good follow-up Tweets as well.

The last two days have seen some interesting Tweets from Academic Publishing in Europe’s 2016 conference in Berlin. All presentations were recorded and should be up soon, so follow #APE2016 on Twitter for the latest.

Twitter Open Access Report – 16 November 2015

The big news of the past few weeks has been the mass resignation of Lingua’s editorial staff. They’re leaving Elsevier over the latter’s refusal to convert the journal to open access, and plan to launch their own OA journal, which they will call Glossa. Ars Technica has the story, as does Inside Higher Ed and a host of other outlets. Here’s a nice roundup from Kai von Fintel.
Source: @RickyPo

We mentioned an EC workshop on Alternative Open Access Publishing Models in the last Report. You can now download all the presentations from that workshop from the EC website, here.
Source: @DigitalAgendaEU

While information wants to be free, the work of disseminating it does carry some costs. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a look at what the real costs of publishing are, and how open access publishers try to cover them. Read it here.
Source: @chronicle

Two Reports ago, we talked about what would be needed to make the leap to Open Access en masse. Martin Haspelmath (@haspelmathhas an idea: high-profile research institutions like the Max Planck Institute and the Wellcome Trust could create and fund their own journals; well-run journals with solid peer review practices would increase the prestige of the institutions, and running these enterprises as a public good rather than a profit-machine would free up money for research.
Source: @RickyPo

Sofie Wennström of the Stockholm University Library has a summary of the #AlterOA workshop and a call for higher-level support for sustainable OA. Read it here.
Source: @SofieWennstrom

The Open Access Spectrum Evaluation Tool ranks journals on their openness, and you can filter your search by different aspects such as reuse rights, machine readability, etc. Very useful when you’re deciding where to submit your article.
Source: @ayeshaasifkhan

Here’s a storify of Open Access Week tweets.
Source: @nxtstop1

Martin Tisne has a post on why Open Data is necessary at the Open Government Partnership Blog, wherein he points out, among other things, that it can be used to hold goverments to account. Medium.com has a very interesting case in point: a white paper about how Open Data helped uncover corruption in Myanmar’s jade industry.

A post on Yorokobu.es notes that MOOCs only have a 7% completion rate, and the headline offers some solutions for retaining them, though the article itself has more to say about predicting which users will drop out. The author does not stop to wonder why it’s so important that students complete the course, or whose priorities are being served when they do.

Tech Crunch has a more nuanced take on the once-popular notion that MOOCs would destroy the university system. As colleges become prohibitively expensive, the college degree will lose its status as the only qualification worth having, and MOOCs will be ready to step in and fill the gap – so, more of an end-run than a head-on collision.
Source: @TechCrunch

Martin Ebner has a presentation on where MOOCs are headed at the TU Graz’s e-learning blog (in German, but easy enough to follow even if you’re not fluent). Check it out here.
Source: @mebner

In an article in The Atlantic, Victoria Clayton wonders why academic writing is so unnecessarily complex. She blames elitism and tradition, as well as the disconnect between academics and the public, but notes that current moves toward Open Access might force academics to write more accessibly – after all, what is the point of making your work available to the public if they can’t understand it?

Outsourcing Editing? Part I

I recently tweeted a question:

The question came to me after resurfacing from several intense months in the editorial office, where my team and I had been working at a fever pitch to complete an array of challenging publishing tasks: We produced two very demanding issues of our flagship publication Transcultural Studies, developed the content for Heidelberg University’s first MOOC, built the workflows and much of the website for heiUP, the university’s open access publishing house, which will be launched this fall. There were workshops and courses, conferences, one book series to be set up and another to be maintained, manuscripts to be edited, layouts to be created, reviews to be written, funding to be considered, not to forget business models to be tested.

Particularly the latter brings up the issue of whether editing academic manuscripts is necessary and affordable. While I firmly believe that good editing is at the core of good publishing (as I have argued elsewhere), the fact that most publishers, open access or for-profit, offer little of it, is irrefutable. (See for example the recent article by Lorenz M. Hilty “What do academic publishers still offer?”). But if publishers do not engage with the content they publish, how can they produce quality?

Hence my tweet. However, as I lifted my head above the parapet to survey the academic publishing landscape, I noticed that something was slightly different. It seems there has been a recent increase in the number of editing companies offering to plug the hole in the publishing workflow where in-house editing once took place.

This development is interesting insofar as it suggests that the need to secure quality control remains undiminished, while the financial responsibility for ensuring it is being thrown around like a hot potato. Many publishers let their authors pay for editing, either to maximise their profit or because they cannot stem the costs. The rationale is often peculiar: they may be shouting “we are the biggest,” or “most ethical,” or “most prestigious” publisher, but do not wish to pay what it costs to ensure those claims amount to more than posturing. So the solution is to saddle the authors with the bill. Some funding bodies may help cover some of the costs, if that kind of quality control is part of an APC for an open access publication for example, but if an author needs their manuscript edited, even after it was accepted for publication, chances are they have to pay for it out of pocket.

There are some exceptions: initiatives like Language Science Press or The International Journal of Dream Research recruit the community of a discipline into the production of their output. Then there are models where some editing is done on campus by students who are schooled and employed as assistants by the institution’s publishing branch, like Athabasca University Press. Heidelberg University is investigating this latter possibility, too. Last, but by no means least, it will be very interesting to see how The Open Library of the Humanities will fare with their new model. Most manuscripts, however, are edited during countless unpaid hours invested by journal editors, researchers, colleagues, and students.

Enter the editing companies. They make big promises, such as “quick turnaround,” “editors with university degrees,” “seasoned editors,” “guaranteed quality,” and feature countless exuberant, 5-star reviews along with impressive lists of customer names. That sounds amazing, not just to the lone author who is trying to get her book or article into the best possible state, but also to those managing journals, book series, or small publishing ventures, who consider outsourcing this aspect of quality control.

Editing, particularly copy-editing, is hard, time-consuming, at times soul-destroying work, so for those of us, who have some budgetary wiggling room, the often reasonably priced offers promised by these companies are a welcome option in a world where publishers no longer assume, or even give a damn about, the responsibility of editorial quality. It so happens that developing a sustainable business model falls within my remit as managing editor, which means I will find out more.

Starting this week in Hall 4.2 at the 2015 Frankfurt Bookfair, I am contacting some of these companies to see what kind of offers I receive. My sample will be a projected turnaround of several books and 4-6 journal issues that need editing work of various depth: from thorough copy-edits (including non-Latin script materials, bibliographies, and the like) to quick proof-reading.

I will analyse editing samples, engage in price negotiations, and discuss delivery times to form an opinion about whether editing companies can be trusted with some of our workload in the future.

I also hope to get input from colleagues and you about experiences with outsourcing editing, so I can place my results in a wider context. Once I have numbers, samples and feedback, I will write Part Two. Should be informative. Stay tuned!

Are We Trading Quality for Affordability? Concerns for Open Access Gold

During the recent #OAT14 in Cologne, the 8th annual Open Access Days of the German speaking countries, a niggling doubt crept into my overall impression of progress and streamlining in Open Access undertakings. Regardless of the distance we may have covered over the last decade or so, I am beginning to wonder if we are all too ready to trade “quality” for “affordability” when producing Open Access Gold publications.

The conference’s contributions demonstrated that open access is growing up. And that is good! The panels may no longer be filled with starry-eyed calls for change. Instead, discussions now focus on issues of long-term prospects and feasible (read: slow) next steps.

And yet, and yet. As open access gold takes these next steps I wonder how much is left behind to accomplish them. Take books, for example. There has arguably never been a comparable opportunity in the history of mankind’s pursuits in the humanities and social sciences to expand and redefine its preeminent genre. And arguably, the very raison d’être of all academics is to produce the best possible intellectual work based on the most thorough research that in turn follows the most rigorous analytical standards. I assume, perhaps naively, that those involved in open access gold publishing are not only aware of these two premises but that it informs their work. I further assume that this includes the custodians of knowledge, i.e. librarians, who now face the tremendous challenge and opportunity of giving academic publishing a home on campus again. But something about this conference gave me the impression that my assumptions are just that: assumptions.

What I realized during these two days in Cologne is that frugality may very well end up overriding quality standards. Most open access pursuits in the publishing of books seem to include everything but content: platforms, layout, metadata, DOIs, archiving, distribution, amazon – it is all there, except editing, which, apparently, is no longer the job of publishers, but authors, book-editors, or series-editors. They are the ones who are supposed to look after “publishability” (if there is such a word), peer-reviews, copy-edit, and proof-reading. And while this is certainly one way of imagining it, my experience tells me that it cannot work. Again, it may be a case of naivity, but editing is – at all these levels – not something anyone can do on the side; it is a profession. A good editor is crucial if a text is to reach its full potential.

Besides, today’s academics already have to wear too many hats: they teach, research, are in committees, publish articles, books, funding-applications for projects (which, if the bid is successful, they also have to run); they convene and participate in conferences, review, evaluate, advise, administer and, sometimes, they even get the time for field-work or explore a new field. At the same time, the pressure to get a job is getting increasingly intense as is the pressure to perform outstandingly in all areas if you want to keep the job you have (beyond the expiry date of your contract) or to get the next gig. Can we seriously, on top of all this, expect academics to also perform as their own editors (press-, series-, book-, managing-, copy-, and layout-)? That smacks of passing the buck and ignoring the elephant in the room: publishing is not just broken in terms of pricing. It is also broken in terms of production and quality standards.

Many trade-publishers have shaved off editing not because the manuscripts have, miraculously, become flawless but to maximize profit-margins. Today, most “editors” are merely making sure the cogs of the (mostly automated) publishing process stay oiled and cheap. The development of the content has fallen by the wayside in favour of profit. Astonishingly, this amputation has apparently remained unnoticed judging by the fact that academics, somewhat sheepishly, accept this lack of engagement with their texts along with the ridiculous over-charging and the loss of their rights as authors. Somehow we bought into the deal that if we want a well edited text, we need to organize and pay for it ourselves while the publishers ensure the happiness of their share-holders.

What troubles me is that it seems as though this fiscally motivated lack of quality assurance is now being adopted by our new open access publishing-models, the main objective being: keep the costs as low as possible, even if that means replicating the abysmal editorial quality that we have grown accustomed to. What concerns me extremely is that very few in open access gold publishing seem to question any of this.

We are at a turning point not only in the technology that informs our research and the way academic communication functions on an infrastructural level; we are also at a crossroads regards the standards that we want our academic output to fulfill. Books are but one example. As Wolfgang zu Castell showed in his #oat14 contribution “Open Access – mehr als nur eine Frage der Kommunikation,” (Open access – more than just a question of communication) comparable issues plague the very data that we base this output on. He pointed back to Anthony Chang’s “The Dangers of Cargo Cult Data Science,” warned of the pitfalls of opaque data-analysis, and called for transparency of the entire data-pipeline; in fact, he reminded everyone in the room of the scientific method for good measure, something I found equally appropriate and shocking.

Our age should not be remembered for missing the opportunity to combine technological innovation with excellence in publishing quality. It will take boldness to avoid such a legacy. Academics must be bold and publish their work in open access and funders must be bold by providing the funds necessary for the transition (don’t forget the Willinsky doctrine: the money to publish open access is already in circulation). Last but not least: the libraries have to be doubly bold: not only to redirect their budgets to house new publishing outlets but to also invest enough in producing excellent works.

 

Catch!

A few moons ago, just before Easter, Claudie Paye (@naponaps) of the fine blog on Napoleon, Naps, sent us a #bestblog “Stöckchen” (little stick, baton) via Twitter. This is an appeal to answer some questions about our blog and, once we are done, to pass the baton on to other bloggers. The point of this tag-like game is to better connect bloggers. Although we are ridiculously late with our answer, we are delighted to be part of this initiative and will gladly participate – albeit in English, which is our working language, and not in the original German. I took the liberty of translating the questions.

So here goes:

1. Wer bloggt denn hier? Who blogs here?
ZB: This blog is run by Andrea Hacker, who holds the position of Managing Editor at the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” at the University of Heidelberg.  In this role, she produces a book-series with Springer, as well as the open-access (gold) journal Transcultural Studies. She is a founding member of the Open Access Tool Alliance, regularly teaches EAP courses to PhD candidates and Post docs, and is currently building a pilot open-access (gold) book series with Heidelberg’s University Library and in cooperation with PKP. One of Andrea’s assistants, Zara Barlas (@z_barlas), also contributes to the blog with regular “Open Access Twitter Reports”.

AH: Zara is much too modest here – she is knee-deep in this blog as well as our other open undertaking: a MOOC on Academic Writing. Stay tuned!

2. Wie und wann ist das Blog entstanden? Was ist die Idee dahinter? When and how did the blog start? What is the idea behind it?
The blog started in November 2013 to do two things: it offers me (AH) a place to formulate ideas and reflect on developments in academia’s open movement. This includes impressions from our own open projects, but also from conferences, conversations and, of course, online readings about open access, funding policies,MOOCs, open data, open science, e-learning, e-publishing, self-publishing, and bibliometrics.

The blog’s second function lies in the collection of our Open Access Twitter reports, which Zara has been collating and preparing for quite some time now.  These reports offer a quick overview of the most pertinent Open Access developments that were reflected on Twitter over the course of a couple of weeks. The entire archive is available unter the tab “OA Twitter Report Archive”.

3. Die drei wichtigsten Grundfähigkeiten, die Du/Sie im Laufe des Studiums bzw. der Promotion erworben hast/haben? What are the three most important skills you acquired during graduate school?
AH: The trick is not to know everything, but knowing where to look it up. Horseback riding. Polish.

4. Lohnt es sich seine Forschungsdaten parallel/nach der Publikation der Dissertation zu veröffentlichen? Is it sensible to publish research data during or after the publication of the dissertation?
Yes! Provability is key to assess research results. Too often we have to take someone’s word and cannot check back to the data to verify what they say. But it depends of course what our dissertation is supposed to do: if you want to publish it in Open Access – perfect: link your data to it and enjoy the full benefit of distribution on a global scale. If (unfortunately) you want to revise it into a book with a trade-publisher or loot it for articles in “prestigious” (read: pay-walled) journals, then perhaps you will be of a different opinion..

5. Rezensionswesen gestern morgen? Whither  book-reviews? Book reviews yesterday tomorrow?
As with the rest of academia, there are great new digital possibilities for book- and journal reviews. We are now seeing a rise in online platforms such as recensio.net or h-net.org. Blogs are also growing as a platform for academic reviews, a prime example of which can be seen at  LSE Review of Books. Reviews will probably continue to flourish in this direction and may even morph into different forms.

6. Warum nutzt Du/nutzen Sie (nicht) akademische soziale Netzwerke (ResearchGate, Academia.edu, …)? Why do you (or don’t you) use academic social networks such as ResearchGate or Academia.edu?
Academic social networks are useful tools to connect with researchers everywhere who pursue topics and interests similar to your own. In addition, academia.edu has the benefit of acting as a platform that enables its users to open up and share their own published works, although there have been some controversies regarding copyright issues! Despite its benefits, academic social networks are greatly limited; the number of registered users on such sites are minuscule compared to other social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is particularly important for the academic world, with cases of tweeted academic works receiving more hits than those that have not been tweeted, and tweets being proven as reliable predictors of citations. With over 200 million users the micro-blogging platform, with its hashtag craze, can be immensely useful for academics  and offers a much larger reach than Academia.edu or ResearchGate, with their 8 million and 4 million users respectively. It depends on your preference: the smaller circle or the massive communication environment. Either way: we are really into it!

7. Ändert sich zurzeit die Wissenschaftskommunikation wirklich nachhaltig? Are the current changes in academic communication really a long-term development?
It depends on what is meant by “long-term” and “current changes”. In the last few decades, academic communication has been so dynamic that it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is current; we have new means of communications from one day to the next. However, the shift in academic communication from the analogue to the digital world, and the growing usage of blogging and social networks certainly seem to be something progressive and ongoing. With the snap of a finger (or the clink of a light bulb in some genius’s mind) we will have our next big wave of academic communication through some new software or hardware, but it would almost certainly continue be something digital and something global.

8. Eine interessante Initiative aus dem Bereich „Science Marketing“? What would be an example of an interesting initiative from the area of “Science Marketing”?
We are stumped and have no ideas.

9. Eine ausgefallene Initiative im Bereich „Bookmarketing“? What would be an example of an extravagant initiative in the area of book marketing?
The temptation to be silly is great but we won’t. Make sure people know about your work – look after your meta-data, spread the news on the networks, go after your publisher to do their job.

10. Generation Praktikum, Generation „Gefällt mir“: zu pessimistisch, zu skeptisch? Was kommt danach? Generation internship, Generation “Like” – is this too pessimistic, too sceptical?
We do not have internships at the editorial office and we don’t want them either. People should get paid for their work! As for the “Like”, “Thumbs up”, “+”, or “favourite” function: it is a very fast and simple way to get a sense of how something is received. This can pay off, for example, on MOOCs. The full potential for this instant digital voting system is still far off and it will be fascinating to see how if can be used in an academic context.

bestblogaward

The way the game goes, we now formulate our own ten questions and pass on the baton to some other blogs we like. So here goes:

I encourage the following bloggers to answer the questions below:

@ernestopriego for epriego.wordpress.com; @martin_eve for Martineve.com; @openaccessarch for http://dougsarchaeology.wordpress.com/; @zbarlas for http://inartandsong.com; and @tolstoysays for http://tolstoysays.blogspot.de/

1. Who blogs here and how did the blog come about?

2. What are the main issues informing the blog?

3. Is the blog post as a genre helpful for developing larger research projects?

4. Freedom of information is always good – so let’s play at augury: whither transparency and openness? (or you can flip it: whither profitability and privacy?)

5. What are the aesthetic considerations for your blog?

6. How do you keep abreast of all the information that is relevant to your project? Can you?

7. Where do you see the most productive and promising developments in academic networking? How do blogs fit into this?

8. Could the growing concern regards surveillance affect the debate of open information?

9. What are the three most important skills you acquired during graduate school?

10. What are you reading at the moment?

So what happens next? If you are so inclined, please

  •  answer these questions – feel free to tweak them
  • include the Best Blog Award-image and link it to the person’s blog post that gave you the award.
  • come up with or recycle ten questions and pass on the best blog “Stöckchen” to up to ten other bloggers.
  • have fun 🙂