The problem of scholarly communication and abundance in the Internet age

From 16 April to 20 April 2018 OpenEdition Center hosted Clement Bert-Erboul and Luis Reyes-Galindo as part of a study on open access academic platforms.

Clément Bert-Erboul :

I hold a master’s degree and a doctorate in economic sociology, both from the CNRS Clersé lab at Lille 1 University. My areas of research are economic sociology, sociology of organizations, open innovation, social networks analysis and web scraping. I am also interested in intellectual property issues as they present themselves in open software communities, patents, innovation agreements, and research policies. I am now a postdoc researcher at the Department of Science and Technology Policies at Campinas State University (UNICAMP) in Brazil. I am part of the FAPESP’s project on Networks of Scientific and Technological Innovation.

 Luis Reyes Galindo :

I hold a master’s degree in physics from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (2005), a master’s degree in philosophy of science from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (2007) and a PhD in Sociology from Cardiff University (2012). My research interests are sociology of science, sociology of theoretical physics, sociology of open access to scientific publications, science communication, Latin American perspectives in Social Science Studies and Technology Studies, and controversies and consensus in science. I am now a postdoc researcher at the Department of Science and Technology Policies at Campinas State University (UNICAMP) in Brazil.  I am also an associate researcher at Cardiff University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico. I contribute to the Brazilian team on the Horizon 2020 project Responsible Research and Practice of Innovation (RRI-Practice)

What is your research project?

In our work we focus on how the abundance of academic content is managed by professional distribution platforms, while also ensuring the reliability and “quality” of content for readers. In order to gain a better understanding of these editorial policies, we put forward three categories of Open Access platforms, based on an understanding of three “rules” deployed by managers of open access platforms: dissemination-based, market-based, and community-based.

1) Dissemination-based platforms come in two types: institutional repositories (e.g. university repositories) and non-commercial journal aggregators such as the Scielo platform and the project. They are characterized by state, public and charitable funding and are shaped by non-commercial science policy guidelines that require the scientific production of heterogeneous communities to be made visible. The principle of dissemination-based platforms is that access to information is a necessary and sufficient condition for knowledge to be useful. Therefore, they tend to rely more on usage metrics (for example, download and access statistics) than on commercially oriented “impact” measures to assess their effectiveness in connecting authors’ output with readers.

2) Market-based platforms are characterized mainly by the dissemination of peer-reviewed journals. To prevent too many articles from being deposited, journals charge a submission fee. In addition, to guide readers and ensure recognition for authors, these journals use what are known as quality indicators, such as the impact factor, the number of citations, etc.

3) Community-supported platforms are exemplified by one of Cornell University’s most successful open access projects: arXiv. ArXiv provides a “library” for the specific disciplines in the natural sciences that make up its main readership. The project is largely based on the existing rules that underpin the informal communication practices of scientific communities. Above all, arXiv does not rely on public metrics to solve the problem of review and recognition, but rather on informal prestige and word-of-mouth in delimited communities.

Although these three paradigms do not exhaust all the possibilities of Open Access platforms, they encompass a large part of the Open Access universe and include a significant portion of the major players in the current editorial landscape. These forms of management are not mutually exclusive and often one rule prevails over others in an Open Access project. Our study focuses on these combinations and how they have evolved over time.

Why did you choose the OpenEdition platform?

Our interest in OpenEdition is part of a process of thorough and continuous microsociological research on Open Access platforms conducted since 2010. We study Open Access projects at different stages of maturity and which are integrated into several independent research programmes in the United Kingdom, Europe, Mexico, Brazil and the United States. Important institutions represented in the sample include CERN, arXiv, the “independent” viXra portal, the Open Library of Humanities of the University of London, the Scielo portal of the state of São Paulo, and public university libraries. It seemed logical to us that OpenEdition in France had its place in this international panorama of Open Access. The Freemium model and the platform’s strong links to French research institutions such as the CNRS and EHESS make OpenEdition a special case in the academic literature dedicated to Open Access. By documenting this project in depth, we hope to promote a comparison between France and other initiatives we have analysed.

What is the programme for your stay?

Our research is based on a microsociological approach initially developed by Luis during his study on arXiv. This approach analyses Open Access platforms as sociotechnical assemblages. In other words, we are looking at how and why Open Access platforms are formed, both from the point of view of their social organization and the techniques and machinery that allow the content to be disseminated online. We are interested as much in the editorial and review policies established by the managers of the platforms as in the relations between administrators and users or the technical decisions relating to the infrastructure. We also have a strong interest in business models, both in their current configurations but also in terms of their evolution and the different forms they have had over time. Finally, we are also interested in the failed projects, the dead-ends encountered by the editorial teams and the uncertainties that concern the administrators. We will address these questions through interviews with OpenEdition team members and we will also study the project’s administrative and technical archives to understand the historical context of the platform.

> Read this post in French

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