Open Scholarship: our definition

Simple beginnings

For over 350 years formal scholarly communication has largely been following the basic format defined by the very first academic journals – the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and the Journal de Sçavans which both started publication in 1665.

These periodicals helped to formalise and make popular the core principles of scientific priority and peer review upon which scientific enquiry is built upon. Whilst methods have moved on and become much more complex these simple foundations have remained in place ever since and have come to define how scholarship is communicated amongst it’s practitioners and wider afield.

Beyond communication

Journals have moved beyond being a simple communication channel and have adopted important secondary functions by becoming vehicles of peer recognition; metrics like citations and journal impact factors have become the primary means to benchmark performance between scholars.  As one noted computer scientist (@lescarr) remarked:

Science has become a by-product of producing an academic CV

Everyone involved in academia is aware of the limitations of using citations to assess academic performance, however since it is the only game in town people still return to play.

Big business

Further obscuring the picture is the fact that the business of publication has become extremely profitable and is now dominated by a small number of large corporations: Reed-Elsevier, Springer and Wiley-Blackwell to name a few.  It is estimated that just under half of all journal articles are published from one of these companies [1].

Big business has invested heavily in scientific publication and has strived to improve systems and process (introducing e-journals and enhanced publications) however the basic formula of academic publishing remains the same since Henry Oldenburg was the editor of Philosophical Transactions.

Lost opportunities

Any innovation in publishing has to be justified in terms of profit creation which creates a conservative environment in which new ideas are adopted. Radical and transformative ideas within scholarly communication are being stifled by profit warnings and inertia. Scholarship has not just lost ownership of communication but is losing the means to be truly inventive with the format currently presented to us. Researchers at the vanguard of their field are being held back by restrictive licences and infrastructure; for example, text-mining of scientific and scholarly literature is being held back because access is restricted, jealously protected and when offered is limited in scope.

Green shoots

Exciting experiments in improving scientific methods [2] and communication [3] are taking place right now at the intersection between academia and web technologies. Individuals and small groups are suitably agile to be able to grow, innovate and push back boundaries. It is now up to larger research institutions to break inertia and follow suit. Open scholarship is about all this and more – it strives to redefine how scholarly activity is recognised, recorded and assessed [4]. Of course open scholarship is not just about journal articles: it is concerned with all the professional activities that researchers find themselves doing today – data stewardship, courseware, publication, workshops and conferences – and enhancing them using new web technologies and the old fashioned values of collaboration, cooperation and sharing.






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