I just came back from Deidesheim, a small town (yet with an oddly epic entry in English Wikipedia — what’s up with that?) located in an area of Germany best known for its excellent Riesling, where I participated in the annual meeting of the SciLogs blogging community. My role in Deidesheim, together with my colleague Merja Mahrt, was to nominate a blogger for the SciLogs ’12 best blog award (here’s the winner!) and to give a talk on research on scholarly blogging (slides below).
The past ten days have been a whirlwind tour of sorts, with no less than three (!) different events related to scholarly/science/research blogging that I attended, and I want to take a moment and reflect on some of the things that were discussed and record a few thoughts they provoked.
So let’s start with a list of the events.
Weblogs in the Humanities, Munich
Last week, I presented at the conference Weblogs in den Geisteswissenschaften (Weblogs in the Humanities), organized by the Deutsche Historische Institut Paris and supported by hypotheses.org, a platform operated by Cléo, a section of the CNRS. The newly launched portal de.hypotheses.org is aimed at the German-speaking scholarly community and follows the model of its French parent. Weblogs (or carnets de recherche, as they are branded under the hypotheses label) are more widely read in France than they are in Germany, a factor which I think partly explains their uptake. Another key to their success seems to be the way they are supported, for example, each blog is provided with an ISSN, making it easier to cite. As part of the editorial team behind de.hypotheses.org, I’m excited to see whether the platform will succeed and follow in the footsteps of its French counterpart, which hosts an impressive 300 scholarly blogs. The conference was certainly an indicator that the topic is on a lot of people’s radar. More detailed reports from the event can be found here (keynote speaker Melissa Terras, in English), here (Wenke Bönisch, in German) and here (Anton Tantner, also in German). During a break, I had the chance to interview Melissa for my postdoc project and was myself interviewed for the German Humanities portal LISA. Thank You to Melissa for taking the time to chat with me and to Georgios Chatzoudis for asking some very thought-provoking questions!
Symposia on e-Social Science, Oxford
Next I flew to England for the first time in several years, to visit the Oxford Internet Institute and attend two events, Social Science and Digital Research: Interdisciplinary Insights and Digital Social Research: A Forum for Policy and Practice. There was also a dinner on Monday to mark the formal ending of the Oxford e-Social Science Project and a breakfast on Tuesday morning, where the Euorpean Commission’s SESERV project was discussed and recommendations on how to integrate e-social science methods into teaching and research more closely were formulated. All of theses events were related to the Oxford e-Social Science project in one way or another, therefore the aspect of digital scholarly communication was just one facet of that larger theme. People had a broad discussion of research and teaching practices in the social sciences and how e-science fits into the mix. I found Christine Borgmann‘s keynote on reproducibility very thought-provoking. We take it for grandted that open data will make the research process more transparent and hopefully this is true, but what reproducibility actually amounts to is widely contested and especially tricky in the context of the human and social sciences.
SciLogs Meeting 2012, Deidesheim
After my visit to Oxford, it was on to Deidesheim via Düsseldorf. The SciLogs meetup was yet a different event than both the Munich conference and the symposia in England. SciLogs is comparable to scienceblogs.com in that it’s run by a publisher (Spektrum der Wissenschaft), who has launched it largely as a source of popular science content and that it has an orientation towards the natural sciences (though there are also blogs on history, linguistics and a variety of other fields). It was exciting to chat with people who have been involved in science blogging for years and to learn more about what drives them. I was particularly impressed by the enthusiasm that the sciloggers have for their blogs and their readers. Blogging is hard work (as the gracial pace of my postings here illustrates…) and Spektrum Verlag can be quite proud of the community it has built around the idea of better informing people about scientific research.
Below are some somewhat random points that I found noteworthy.
Scholarly/academic/science/research blogs are written by a wide variety of people (e.g. scholars, journalists, librarians, science enthusiasts), for a wide range of audiences (e.g. self, peers, people in the same field, practitioners, politicians, general public) with a variety of purposes in mind (self-fulfillment, knowledge management). It’s important not just to regard them exclusively as a form of science communication, but to see the many roles they take on for a range of users.
Just as scholarly bloggers and their topics are a diverse bunch, readers and commentators of S/a/s/r blogs have different reasons for visiting and participating. A key motivation among commentators could be that they can add their view to a post. This may seem obvious, but it’s interesting for several reasons. For example, there is fairly little dialogue going on in posts that have a lot of comments. The commentators simply add their take and then leave, without engaging with the blogger or with each other. Debates that do have a lot of actualy discussion sometimes devolve into arguments between individual users that have little to do with the original post. This isn’t a bad thing, but it illustrates that it’s a bad idea to give in to the temptation that a large number of comments translates into success. Or, perhaps speaking of personal success is alright as long as one doesn’t mistake it for societal impact. Another thing is the relation of commentators and readers. It’s not trivial to figure out whether fewer comments means less attention on the part of readers.
In order to play a role in main-stream scholarly communication, as it is still conducted primarily via monographs and journals, scholarly blogging must integrate some of the conventions that exist in these forms (quality control, long-term availability of content, citability), if it is to succeed as a formal genre of scholarly communication, while preserving its intrinsic strengths (speed and simplicity of publication, the potential of interaction via comments, the ability to embed images, video, audio, data and code, the ability to link and quote, the ability to track one’s impact via metrics). The adaptation can happen in multiple ways, and it only applies to formal scholarly communication — what happens informally or for other purposes remains uneffected, as does blogging about science by journalists or hobbyists. Blogging about science and scholarship is obviously in the public interest. The question is, should this be left to the researcher, or should it be incentivized by institutions? As Klaus Graf put it somewhat radically at the conference in Munich, is a researcher who doesn’t blog a bad researcher?
An interesting issue — especially to the library and information science community — that Google’s Max Senges raised at the Berlin Symposium on Internet and Society (#bsis11) was how the impact of the instiute’s research could be measured. HIIG’s mission is not just to produce excellent scholarship, but also to foster a meaningful dialog with a wide range of stakeholders beyond academia in relation to the issues that the institute investigates.
This approach has a number of implications that I want to briefly address. My views are my own, but I consider this an exciting test case for a modern, digital form of science evaluation. I believe three things can serve to make the institute’s research as transparent as possible:
- primary research results (i.e. papers) should be Open Access,
- journalistic contributions (essays, interviews, public speaking) beyond academic publications should be encouraged,
- communication of research via social media (blogs, Twitter) should be encouraged.
Open Access is of key importance
David Drummond emphasized the importance of Open Access in his speech at the Institute’s inauguration. A plausible step to make Open Access part of the institute’s culture could be to sign the Berlin Declaration and set up a dedicated repository of institute publications. HIIG could encourage its researchers to publish in gold road Open Access journals such as those listed in the DOAJ and encourage use of a green road approach par the SHERPA/Romeo list in the remaining cases. It could further encourage the use of Creative Commons or similar licences for scholarly publications.
Journalism and engagement with the general public
The public has a considerable interest in the issues investigated at HIIG and accordingly talking with and through traditional media channels will be of great importance. This should not merely be considered a form of marketing, but rather a form of dialog that will allow HIIG to fulfill its obligation to the public to act as an informed voice in civic debate around issues such as privacy and net neutrality. Engagement with the public via essays, interviews, public speaking and similar activities should be considered part of the institute members’ impact.
Social media’s role for science communication
The institute could consider social media as a central avenue of engaging with a wider public and recognize the willingness to use it accordingly. Scholarly blogging, for example, should be considered as part of a member’s research output instead of being regarded as a chiefly private enterprise. Social media activity cannot supplant traditional scholarly publishing, but it can serve to conduct conversations around research, get the attention of non-academics, and point to formal publications, among other things.
So how could this be implemented? The first and second points — making primary research results available and promoting journalistic contributions — are already standard practice elsewhere. The third is a little more tricky. Should it be important how many friends a researcher has on Facebook, or followers on Twitter (assuming he/she is even on these platforms)? Such an approach would be much too simplistic, but perhaps something a little more nuanced could be tried. How about encouraging the use of the #hiig (hash)tag wherever possible and continuously tracking the results? The institute could run its own blog — this may or may not work well, given that many contributors might already have their own one — or a blog planet, a site that just aggregates material from existing blogs that is #hiig-tagged.
These are just general ideas, but eventually they could coalesce into a framework for evaluating HIIG’s impact beyond purely scholarly (and faulty) forms of measurement such as the impact factor.
I read about this new book series titled Scholarly Communication: Past, present and future of knowledge inscription this morning on the Humanist mailing list. Since scholarly communication is one my main research interests, I’m thrilled to hear that there will be a series devoted to publications focusing on the topic, edited and reviewed by a long list of renown scholars in the field.
On the other hand it’s debatable (see reactions by Michael Netwich and Toma Tasovac) whether a book series on the future of scholarly communication is not a tad anachronistic, assuming it is published exclusively in print (seems to be the case from the look of the announcement on the website). New approaches, such as the crowdsourcing angles of Hacking the Academy or Digital Humanities Now, seem more in sync with Internet-age publishing to me, but sadly such efforts usually don’t involve commercial publishers**. My recent struggles with Oxford University Press over a subscription to Literary and Linguistic Computing (the only way of joining the ALLC) has added once more to my skepticism towards commercial publishers. And not because their goal is to make money — there’s nothing wrong with that inherently — but because they largely refuse to innovate when it comes to their products and business models. Mailing a paper journal to someone who has no use for it is a waste of resources and a sign that you are out of touch with your customers needs… at least if your customer is this guy.
Do scholars in the Humanities and Social Sciences* still need printed publications and (consequently) publishers?
Do we need publishers if we decide to go all-out digital?
Do we need Open Access?
I have different stances in relation to these questions depending on the hat I’m wearing. Individually I think print publishing is stone dead, but I also notice that by and large my colleagues still rely on printed books and journals much more heavily than digital sources. Regarding the role of publishers and Open Access the situation is equally complex: we need publishers if our culture of communication doesn’t change, because reproducing digitally what we used to create in print is challenging (see this post for some deliberations). If we decide that blog posts can replace journal articles because speed and efficiency ultimately win over perfectionism, since we are no longer producing static objects but a constantly evolving discourse — in that case the future of commercial publishers looks uncertain. Digital toll-access publishing seems to have little traction in our field so far, something that is likely to change with the proliferation of ebooks we are likely to see in the next few years.
Anyhow — what’s your take?
Should we get rid of paper?
Should we get rid of traditional formats and post everything in blogs instead?
Is Cameron Neylon right when he says that the future of research communication is aggregation?
Let me know what you think — perhaps the debate can be a first contribution to Scholarly Communication: Past, present and future.
(*) I believe the situation is fundamentally different in STM, where paper is a thing of the past but publishers are certainly not.
(**) An exception of sorts could to be Liquid Pub, but that project seems focused on STM rather than Hum./Soc.Sci.
Since starting the Scientwists Project a bit over a week ago, I’ve been busy hacking up Bash and R scripts in order to analyze the data produced by the 500+ scholars that I’m following. Here’s a first glimpse of what they’ve been tweeting about, specifically the URLs and hashtags they’ve used.
In total, I’ve collected about 12.000 tweets since January 7th, containing 4.750 different URLs and 1.130 different hashtags.
10 most popular URLs
2. Dennis Meadows: The Oil Drum: Economics and Limits to Growth: What’s Sustainable?
3. Björn Brembs: Social filtering of scientific information – a view beyond Twitter
4. BioData Product Blog: Laboratory Notebooks: A thing of the past?
5. Forbes.com: Illumina’s Cheap New Gene Machine
6. A photograph of clouds that seem to resemble Great Britain
7. Times Online: Baroness Greenfield loses her job in Royal Institution shake-up
9. Daniel Mietchen: On the need for a global academic internet platform [ref to Nadja Kutz: arxiv.org/abs/0803.1360]
10. Rebecca Skloot: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
These were tweeted between 5 (#9 and #10) and 30 (#1) times. However, tracking URLs is complicated by the fact that many different addresses may point to the same source, especially since people use a variety of different URL shorteners. This is something I’ll resolve later, so for now this fairly anecdotal.
15 most popular hashtags
1. #scio10 (391x)
2. #scidebate (84x)
3. #fb (75x)
4. #science (68x)
5. #technology (67x)
6. #tcot (58x)
7. #orca (54x)
8. #debateanatel (53x)
9. #Glee (31x)
10. #ff (27x)
11. #HeLa (26x)
12. #uksnow (26x)
13. #Haiti (25x)
14. #NetDE (24x)
15. #gov20 (21x)
Hope it’s informative – let me know if you have any questions.
It took me a bit longer to put these up, but here are the slides and video clip for my presentation in Osnabrück last week (in German). I was invited to speak at the ZePrOS (Center for Graduate Studies) at the University of Osnabrück on effective ways of communicating one’s research online. Alex Bergs gave a very flattering introduction after which I went on a long but practically-oriented rant on scholarly communication in the digital age. My audience was very patient and gave me some great questions to ponder.
I was grateful for the opportunity to present on this subject for several reasons. Firstly, I believe that a topic such as Open Access is best approached holistically, i.e. by taking on the researcher’s perspective. It makes much more sense in my opinion to embed a discussion of Open Access into the larger picture of communicating research results openly on the Web, instead of treating it as an isolated issue that is primarily about making publishing cheaper.
Another reason is that graduate education tends to neglect what are perceived as ‘peripheral’ issues, such as where/how to publish, the inner workings of the academic job market and why visibility (not just inside your own discipline) is important. We need to promote digital literacy among grad students, in the sense of teaching
- new methods, tools and infrastructure for doing research (e-science, e-social-science, e-humanities),
- new ways of presenting and making accessible one’s research (Open Access, self-archiving),
- new ways of communicating with colleagues and working collaboratively (tagging/bibliography-sharing, collaborative writing) and
- new approaches to teaching and learning (using video lectures, creating digital learning materials).
My impression is that the best way to achieve something like digital scholarly literacy is to take an integrative approach to these issues. E-science, virtual research environments, e-learning and social media tools for collaboration are hardly ever discussed in concert, but often treated as separate topics. While this may appear to be a more focused way of looking at things (especially if you’re a librarian, funding agency etc), all of these themes are connected in the daily lives of scholars. Cameron Neylon’s points on innovation in science blogging (“The natural unit of science research is the blog post”) go hand in hand in my view with Michael Habib’s observations on digital scholarly identity and a discussion of e-learning and e-teaching could easily be attached to this.
All of these things are part of digital scholarship as an integrated process – as opposed to analog scholarship with a few digital bits here and there.
I held this presentation earlier today at the Milestone Meeting of the Forschungsverbund Interactive Science. It briefly discusses Google Wave (I did a little demo in the middle, showing the most elemental features of Wave) and makes some general points about scholarly communication in digital environments.
Thanks to everyone who attended for their questions and comments!
Things that were formerly represented as the external raw materials of knowledge can now be represented and incorporated within the knowledge. And in contrast to linear, lock–step modes of dissemination of knowledge, we can see signs of possibility for scholarly knowledge in the more collaborative, dialogical and recursive forms of knowledge making already to be found in less formal digital media spaces such as wikis, blogs and other readily accessible Web site content self–management systems. Most journals are still making PDFs, still bound to the world of print-look–alike knowledge representation, but a reading of technological affordances tells us that we don’t have replicate traditional processes of knowledge representation — digital technologies allow us to do more than that.