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Publishing in the Adjacent Possible

December 1, 2011

The link below takes you to a video of my talk at the 6th Munin Conference, at which the theme was Enhancing Publications. In the talk, I explore Stuart Kauffman’s concept of the Adjacent Possible and imagine what it might mean in the context of thinking about the future of scientific publication.

A very slightly revised text of this talk will appear in a subsequent post, and a much briefer blog on the topic will also appear in these pages soon.

The Munin Conference is an annual international conference on issues related to open access and publishing, held at the University of Tromsø. (Note that the video of the speaker and the video of the non-slides can be exchanged by clicking on the right side of the screen on “Swap Media Elements.”)

Publishing in the Adjacent Possible

(My talk from the 5th Munin Conference was entitled Open Access: The competitive advantage; the link takes you to the YouTube video.)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2011 10:50

    Very interesting, but I think we should be careful to separate discussions of peer review and open access. One of the reasons some open access journals have such low status is that they have no system for peer review. Other journals do. Some paper journals have online pre-publishing (because of the long backlog before the paper version comes out), and allow authors to have their articles be published open access (for a fee). Those who do not select that option have to wait a couple of years before their article goes from accept to publication; those that chose (and pay for) open access can have their work available much sooner. The point being is that these are two different things, and both are problematic for several reasons.

    Peer review, as you point out, does not capture essential flaws in the data because reviewers only look at the written output, not the raw data. This was also the problem in the Sudbø case — where also co-authors didn’t even have access to the raw data. Journals are also suffering from reviewer burnout, and as you also point out, scholars are already overwhelmed by their workload, so doing something “for the greater good of the scientific community” that they don’t receive compensation for is hardly tempting. I love your idea of giving scholars credit for this kind of work.

    Open access is problematic because it often means reduced quality assurance. It doesn’t have to, but it often does. Cost is a huge element. Librarians are huge supporters of it because they have to make choices about which “bundles” of subscriptions to purchase, and it inevitably means that they end up subscribing to many journals they don’t really want, and not subscribing to others they do want. Not to mention all the hoops people have to jump through if they want to download something. Librarians are trying to provide a service (publications to the people!) and open access would make this easier. But how will the quality control be paid for if not through subscriptions? And if authors pay for the cost of publication, will it mean that journals will become open for publishing articles just because they are paid to do so? Or if we push the cost of publication on to the author, will only wealthy institutions be able to afford to publish?

    Many legitimate questions, and a very exciting field. I’m with you on your basic idea here: Open access gives us a chance to do something qualitatively different. The debates around peer review are also giving us this chance. The question is, though, what will that different thing be?

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