Six paths to a global Open Access Repository

repositories: gathering and opening (img: Design Loft concept for Kent State's College of Architecture and Environmental Design building, by Weiss/Manfredi architects)

repositories: gathering and opening
(img: Design Loft concept for Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design building, by Weiss/Manfredi architects)

The Web was created for scientific communication, but 20 years after its launch, only a small percentage of scientific/scholarly publications are freely Web-accessible/reusable. Only about 12% of publications are self-archived compared to an estimated 81% that could be[1]. Open Access publishing is growing but it covers only some articles, and comparatively little older, humanities, or book/other content. Repositories, run by parties other than publishers, containing possibly preprint or alternate forms of content, may offer much of the low-hanging fruit in expanding access to research literature.

A late-breaking related development is the CHORUS proposal (ClearingHouse for the Open Research of the United States) from a group of mostly-US scientific publishers and publishing organizations. This proposes a publisher-run system, hosting content on publishers’ sites, to fulfill the new US government mandate of public access to new federally-funded research results, as expressed in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) policy memorandum. I’ll just say that upon initial inspection I see this as an effort by incumbent players to control and contain the emerging open-access environment, and as much narrower in scope than the type of global, open system I would envision and advocate.

I’d also note Ross Mounce’s recent, excellent guide to researcher self-archiving. “Easy steps towards open scholarship” (LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog, May 24).

Expanding on and contrasting to both CHORUS and Mounce’s guide, here I present six ideas to broaden, accelerate, and amplify the impact & uptake of repositories, from a global perspective of researchers and users, academic and not, and all types of work in all fields and all countries. What might we do to globally make the biggest difference the soonest with the least resources?

  1. OpenRef“: analogous to CrossRef, a single service point to look up, request, or submit materials, offering the simplest, most user-centered possible interface for all needs.
  2. Best available version” concept: recognize preprints, drafts, outlines, alternate articles, book summaries, etc., as legitimate versions for many purposes.
  3. Identifier assignment and association/clustering (e.g. of DOIs) for all materials.
  4. 80/20 approach: discover and focus on the content that is most needed.
  5. Crowdsource the identification, prioritization, discovery/archiving, and creation of archivable works, e.g. with the #paywall hashtag.
  6. Global scope: not limited by institution, discipline, country, educational level, or genre of work.

Also, in section 7. Current and possible players I discuss how various organizations/projects partly already do, or might in future, take these approaches: e.g. Google Scholar, arXiv, and JISC. In section 8. Frequent objections, I discuss questions like, doesn’t Google Scholar do this already? and, don’t most fields lack the necessary preprint culture?  Finally in 9. Lean Startup Approach I ask how we might usefully think of this project like a “lean” or agile startup.

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Collaborative Argumentation and Advocacy

argumentatio_24166_smI. Collaborative Advocacy

In a March 30 post “Is the definition of Open Access closed?” I discussed a concept of “collaborative advocacy“:

try to bring together advocates [around some issue] who don’t necessarily agree, and collaborate for optimally engaged, evidenced, clarified expressions of their respective positions.

The immediate prompt was the, complex, often contentious debate over “open access”, i.e. free public accessibility and reusability of scholarly work. In particular, the tensions between open-science advocates and conventional academic publishers, and between advocates coming from science vs. from humanities.

Possibly, such a forum/argumentation design could encourage credibility being based on clear, easily-accessible and verified evidence of deep, good-will engagement with counter-argument and diverse views. Which is, you know, not always what happens in the rich human tapestry of discussion. And which would be, arguably, a format expressing in situ the structure which the scholarly or scientific worlds purport to have as a whole.

This has some potential advantages not only for audiences, but for advocates themselves, who often have to continually restate nearly the same arguments in many forums, with comparatively little time to fine-tune or correct their statements. This way, they can get arguments as right as possible in one place, and reference it from other contexts.

In scholarly publishing terms, this is something like the contrast between the “article”, or individual exposition model, vs. the “topic page” as represented by Wikipedia and scholarly reference works. Except it would not be single point of view, and particular arguments would be attributable to particular contributors. (possibly close to a Wikipedia-style overview page that has broken a topic/issue into sub-, variant, and conflicting views with their own pages).

To me, the debates over Open Access are an intriguing case study: a highly complex and contested issue (“wicked problem”) that cuts across and involves all areas of science and scholarship, as well as political and commercial sectors. How do people from scientific and scholarly backgrounds engage in this — do their practices and habits of communication serve, or hinder, or need to be adapted?

Also, questions of managing argumentation link together a number of current key problems: how might/should peer review evolve?; how to design commenting systems for the scholarly and general Web? how to catalyze innovative collaboration and counteract homophily?

II. Collaborative Argumentation

Clearly (or arguably?), these questions are part of fundamental issues about how truth or wisdom and accord may be found, reconciling inquiry and dialog and civility. There are many possible contexts to consider this within: e.g. philosophical inquiry/logic from Socratic dialogue on; the history of scholarly/scientific communication; current explorations of commenting and annotation systems for the Web; or the current, Semantic Web-related, computational analysis of argument structures & data.

Areopagitica_bridwellHowever, I’d suggest as a powerful and useful reference point John Milton’s Areopagitica of 1644, perhaps the most foundational statement supporting freedom of the press, written just 20 years before the first scientific journals were published in 1665. Milton allegorized inquiry as an open field, a battlefield, for doctrines (as expressed by free individual voices) to contend  and truth to win out:

Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field…Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?

We can easily recognize many latter-day descendant ideas: for example, the “marketplace of ideas” (William O. Douglas, 1953; echoing Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “”free trade in ideas  [within] the competition of the market,”1919). Or the so-called “antagonistic” model Anglo-Saxon legal system — or the typical forms of academic and political discussion. It’s fully independent, monologic voices “in a free and open encounter.”

title page of 1st issue of the Philosophical Transactions, 1665.

title page of 1st issue of the Philosophical Transactions, 1665.

But how well does that really work? Could it be, to some extent, an artifact of early-modern European print culture that’s been reified as a indisputable model? Do digital-era practices/tools address its  limitations, or might they point to alternate models?

The oppositional tradition and practice in academia is examined and found wanting by Deborah Tannen in “”Agonism in academic discourse,” Journal of Pragmatics, 2002. (DOI; PDF):

understanding, knowledge, and insight come not only from oppositional debate but also from exploring complexity, culling insight from disparate sources, seeking connections—and…these types of inquiry are discouraged by our agonistic ideology and conventions. [2]

Considering the shaping metaphors, Tannen observes

how much more might be learned if we think of theory not as static structures to be demolished or assertions to be falsified, but a set of understandings to be questioned and shaped. In this spirit, we could replace the traditional battle and sports imagery with a metaphor from cooking. Daly (1996: xv)’s ‘‘theories should be treated like bread dough that rises with a synergetic mix of ingredients only to be pounded down with the addition of new ingredients and human energy’’.

We might also consider this issue from a quantitative or attention economy point of view. In the time of Milton, or the early Philosophical Transactionsit may have seemed the printing press had let loose an anarchy of expression. However, the set of people who might print a newspaper or pamphlet, or pen a significant article, was still quite small, and a gentleman might, within a few-mile stroll of then-tiny central London’s key coffeehouses and salons, and perusal of their periodicals, survey many fields of discussion.

I wonder, is Milton’s space of doctrinal contention a print-era artifact: implicitly conceiving a “field” that’s bounded by the finitude of print and pre-modern attentional economy, but increasingly insufficient for our comparatively unbounded informational world?

Now, we do have various mechanisms to re-bound the anarchy of expression: for example, topic pages, Wikipedia, bibliographies, reference works, summary reports, literature reviews, citation analysis (who cited this), etc. Editors and producers of magazines, journals, or news shows may play the role of surveying topical fields and bringing disparate views into engagement, ideally.

However, I’d observe that the prevailing norm, still, is that we encounter individual voices, expressed in contention with, and independence from, other voices, which it is our task to evaluate and relate to other claims. Most discussions, even in many of the most prestigious forums and publications, are shot through with recognizable fallacies of argument, particularly straw-man creation and mischaracterization of other views. Perhaps the media environment is much less London coffeehouse, and much more, in Arnold’s words, “a darkling plain, swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight.

How might we do better? When we are constantly encountering these independent voices in contentious “free and open encounter,” how well can we actually relate and evaluate them? Of course, the goal of most “voices” — news sources, media products, people — is to get more of your time, attention, and/or money, not to enlighten you. But let’s say you want to be more enlightened, or you work in one of the fringe areas like education or research where in some sense this is the goal? Perhaps a key goal for publication/communication design should be better structures to map and relate arguments, not just present them.  

Deliberate structures to articulate and relate arguments can also be built into writing and research. For example, the Nobel Prize-winning behavioral psychologist Daniel Kahneman and collaborators, motivated by the study of cognitive biases in 2001 developed a process they called “adversarial collaboration” :

an approach to scientific debate [that] requires both parties to agree on empirical tests for resolving a dispute and to conduct these tests with the help of an arbiter.[1]

You might say this approach rejoins or re-bounds the infinite space of discord, by building adjudication into the process of work/expression, rather than letting it remain, as typical, an external and subsequent process. It follows from Kahneman & Tversky’s systematic studies of how any single mind, or voice, no matter how ennobled or intelligent or authoritative, is widely prey to common cognitive biases. The heroically individual Author, it turns out, is often astray; truth is woven in discourse.

I echo Kahneman et al’s paradoxical-sounding term “adversarial collaboration” with the term in this post, “collaborative argument”. My suggestion is similar to Kahneman’s, just applied to online discussion generally:

How might we design forums/argumentation to make credibility follow from easily-accessible and verified evidence of deep, good-will engagement with counter-argument and diverse views?




[1] Mellers, Hertwig and Kahneman [2001]. “Do Frequency Representations Eliminate Conjunction Effects? An Exercise in Adversarial Collaboration?” Psychological Science. July 2001 vol. 12 no. 4 269-275. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00350.

[2[ Tannen, Deborah [2002] “Agonism in academic discourse.” Journal of Pragmatics, 2002. doi:10.1016/S0378-2166(02)00079-6PDF.

Give #MOOCs a Chance: a reply to Aaron Bady


adaptation of “You keep using that word” meme from “The Princess Bride”. from Aaron Bady.

this is a response posted to “The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform” by Aaron Bady in The New Inquiry, May 15.

MOOC” means Massive Open Online Course, as in the courses now being offered by Udacity, Coursera, and EdX in partnership with universities.


You have good observations and critique, and there’s certainly room for suspicion around MOOCs, but I think this article succumbs to a somewhat paranoiac cultural-studies frame.

Yes, there’s hype around MOOCs, people championing them for some questionable reasons, and incomplete referencing of the history of online pedagogy. But there are also real issues and opportunities driving the phenomenon, not merely deluded or cynical hype, and you tend to caricature MOOCs as rather more fixed and well-defined than I believe them to be.

In your presentation, the current mainstream system of in-classroom teaching is self-evidently the “real” and better educational experience, and MOOCs are an unproven threat.

I’d say that the current system has pervasive problems of cost, access, equality, and outcomes, and we’re in a moment of new possibilities opening up to address some of those problems: not only the MOOC form, but more flexible accreditation, perhaps not controlled by the incumbent higher-ed sector; new learning approaches and technologies.

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What if Twitter were designed to put users in charge?

(followup to my last post: “Escaping from freedom: the problem of designing for user agency“).

I. Introduction

Twitter is generally presented as a “stream” media model — you dip in and see some sampling of messages from accounts you follow. However, what if you wanted to use it more deliberately, e.g. scanning and analyzing all messages, analyzing the volume and quality of each of your follows’ output, or reading tweets sorted or filtered any way you wanted? What if you want the wide radar and engagement, but more control over the noise?

I believe that technically this *is* possible: and it would be an extremely useful way to combine Twitter’s strengths with the type of user control associated with more “expert” tools like Google Reader, Feedly, or SocialBro. Existing 3rd-party Twitter clients such as TweetDeck had some of these aspects, but the future of most such tools is generally in doubt as Twitter’s prod-dev and API policies evolve.

However, we need to keep building our own tools, or as McLuhan said, they will build us. Today an increasing need is for tools/practices to manage our attention and information, or as Howard Rheingold’s aptly put it, “intelligence dashboards, news radars, and information filters.”

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Escaping from freedom: the problem of designing for user agency

Fromm, "Escape from Freedom," 1941

Fromm, “Escape from Freedom,” 1941. on the appeal of totalitarianism.

The Guardian had an excellent story recently, “Conscious computing: how to take control of your life online” by Oliver Burkeman. It focuses on movements, tools, and practices that seek to counteract the deliberately distracting tendency of most current Internet media and services.

The problem is aptly described by Nir Eyal, a Silicon Valley internet entrepreneur who cites the “behavior design” models of Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg as inspiration:

Let’s admit it, we in the consumer web industry are in the manipulation business. We build products meant to persuade people to do what we want them to do. We call these people “users” and even if we don’t say it aloud, we secretly wish every one of them would become fiendishly addicted.

Eyal advocates a version of this approach for product development, which he calls the “Hooked” method, which is also the title of his forthcoming book.

I think of this situation as part of a more general pattern: the perennial tension in the information environment between user agency and producer agency. User agency is when the user has control over the environment/media: for example, time- and device-shifting of content, peer-to-peer media, blogging, open-source tools, remix culture, net neutrality, and general-purpose computing devices. Producer agency, on the other hand, is exemplified by broadcasting, bundling of information goods (e.g. cable TV), click-wrap licensing, DRM, etc.

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‘Crossing the chasm’ with science social media

Crossing-the-ChasmThe journal PLOS Biology published a paper “An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists” by Holly M. Bik and Miriam C. Goldstein, on April 23. It has quickly become one of their most popular papers, with almost 25,000 views just over a week later.

In my comment submitted on the paper, which is copied in full below, I suggest this guide is oriented to the practices of current “early adopters” of these media, whereas we might anticipate that an increasing majority of future adopters:

  1. will be more casual / lower-engagement,
  2. may be intermediaries serving scientists, e.g. publishers, rather than scientists engaging directly; and
  3. may tend to engage social media networks via activities/signals embedded in their own tools, e.g. journal platforms, rather than on the social media networks directly.

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