A revolution by digital scholars

A summary of my thoughts on how scholarly publishing … through the open access movement … is transforming the open-ness of the entire academic research process. A more complete version of these thoughts were submitted as Assessment item 2 for INF537.

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Research and the dissemination of research results through scholarly publishing are an essential way in which our society expands knowledge. Through the past centuries scholarly publishing has dictated the recording and disseminating of research findings and has consolidated into the formalised structures of journal articles and monographs.

The journal is an important type of formal scholarly communication that not only serves to communicate peer-reviewed research results but enables authors to establish ownership and precedence of ideas, build personal reputations and further careers, and potentially obtain future research funding (Johnson, Watkinson, & Mabe, 2018, p. 15, 77). Journals are typically published by commercial publishers or learned society publishers, who sell subscription to journals to readers and archiving and curating institutions such as libraries (p. 43). It is standard procedure in the traditional scholarly publishing model that neither author nor reviewer receive remuneration for their work and that the author transfers intellectual property rights to journal publishers, allowing the publisher to explore all commercial rights. Publishers still argue that this should not be viewed as a “giving away” of rights, but as an exchange for services provided, such as semantic enrichment (copy editing, tagging, etc.) and dissemination of content (Johnson, Watkinson, & Mabe, 2018, p. 14).  BUT when digital innovation and its ability to connect everyone everywhere and almost instantaneously and freely share information, since digital media are infinitely reproducible at zero marginal cost (Pearce, Weller, Scanlon & Ashleigh (2010), p. 34) it became clear that while paying for access to journals was common practise in the world of print publishing, where physical copies of articles had to be delivered to every reader, this is not justified in the digital world (“Openness Inspires”, n.d.). Another really valid argument against the current publishing model is that since the majority of research is publicly funded and executed by researchers without direct compensation, it is unjust that results are hidden behind technical, legal, and financial barriers which are maintained by publishers, locking out most of the world’s population and preventing the use of new research techniques (“Open access”, n.d.).  The affordances of digital innovation clearly brought great tension between the stakeholders in the traditional scholarly publishing model and a growing discontent over the proprietary model of publication.

Digital innovation improved the efficiency of the editing process, the speed with which peer-review can be conducted and enables almost immediate, ubiquitous access to the content of scholarly publications. Pearce, Weller, Scanlon & Ashleigh (2010) stresses that digitization creates possibilities for openness and transparency (p. 34). SPARC favours the development of an open system of communicating research results, to which anyone can contribute and benefit from. SPARC views this concept of openness with potential to be responsible for the most distuptive change in scholarly publishing (“Open access,” n.d.). Open access (OA) is understood to be the free and immediate online access to research results and scholarly publications, with the unrestricted right to (re)use content (“Open Access,” n.d.; “Benefits of Open,” n.d.). cOAlition S, a group of national research funding organisations with backing from the European Union, see open access as foundational to research and the scientific enterprise, pronouncing no justification for a subscription-based model of scholarly publishing and mandating all research funded by them to be available without embargo through open access repositories from 2021 (“Why plan, S” n.d.).

At first open access only presented a challenge to the traditional publishing model, but soon it became a model and strategy for research and governing organisations to improve knowledge circulation and innovation (“Open science (Open access)”, n.d.). The concept of openness is now being applied to:research data, raising the question of how data can be made open and be re-used to reproduce and advance research results; a more open and transparent peer-review process can become more open and transparent; and  scientific evaluation (Penev, 2017, p. 1). Self-archiving of pre- and post-publication copies of journal articles on personal websites, in institutional or national repositories, via archiving institutions such as libraries, or through uploading to scientific social collaboration networks such as ResearchGate and Academia continue to improve open access to scholarly content (Johnson, Watkinson, & Mabe, 2018, p. 114; P. 98; p. 80). Digital scholars increasingly find media other than publication of journal articles to share their academic thoughts – e.g. videos, podcasts, blog posts, and slide casts. While these are not commonly accepted as scholarly publications yet, they make more effective use of the affordances of digital and linkable media than text-based journal articles – an example being JoVE, a peer-reviewed video journal (n.d.). Weller (2012) correctly reasons that a key aspect of the digital revolution is not the direct replacement of one form of scholarly activity with another, but rather the addition of alternatives to traditional methods of scholarly publication.

The changes to the scholarly publishing model that was made possible by the digital revolution is now reforming not only scholarly publishing, but the nature of research, as well as advancing scholarship into a multi-faceted digital scholarship.


Benefits of open access journals. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2019, from PLOS website: https://www.plos.org/open-access

Johnson, R., Watkinson, A., & Mabe, M. (2018, October). The STM report: An overview of scientific and scholarly publishing (Report No. 5th). Retrieved from International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers website: https://www.stm-assoc.org/2018_10_04_STM_Report_2018.pdf

JoVE website. (n.d.). JoVe. Retrieved from https://www.jove.com/journal

Open access. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2019, from Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition website: https://sparcopen.org/open-access/

Open data. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2019, from Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition website: https://sparcopen.org/open-data/

Openness inspires innovation. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2019, from PLOS website: https://www.plos.org/who-we-are

Open science definition. (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2019, from FOSTER website: https://www.fosteropenscience.eu/foster-taxonomy/open-science-definition

Open science (Open access). (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2019, from European Commission website: https://bit.ly/2jYLJCm

Pearce, N., Weller, M., Scanlon, E., & Ashleigh, M. (2010). Digital scholarship considered: How new technologies could transform academic work. In Education, 16(1), 33-44. Retrieved from https://ineducation.ca/ineducation/article/view/44/508

Penev, L. (2017). From Open Access to Open Science from the viewpoint of a scholarly publisher. Research Ideas and Outcomes. https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.3.e12265

Was ist open science? [What is open science]. (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2019, from OpenScienceASAP website: http://openscienceasap.org/open-science/

Weller, M. (2012). The virtues of blogging as scholarly activity. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Virtues-of-Blogging-as/131666/

Weller, M. (2017). The digital scholar revisited. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://blog.edtechie.net/digital-scholarship/the-digital-scholar-revisited/

Why Plan S. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2019, from Plan S website: https://www.coalition-s.org/why-plan-s/