I have recently read, and I highly recommend, Toni Prug’s and Benjamin Geer’s work-in-progress essay on the limits of academic publishing and the need to renovate it in a new, technologically radical way. To summarize its main points (but do not let this discourage you from reading the whole thing), Toni’s aim, in the first part, is to counterpose an open-access (OA) model, to an open-process (OP) one. OA stands for a free internet access to journals and articles with limited copyright, a model which we would all like to see ubiquitously implemented, but which however leaves the development of a paper–from the original author’s idea to published version, through submssion, peer review and revisions–largely unmodified as compared to the, often Kafkaesque, standards we all know, which end up being an obstacle for young scholars. See for example this interesting article on the topic, which highlights the systems of power and prestige of big journals and how these structures of interests do nothing to help new scholarship.
OP, on the other hand would indicate a structural revolution of the whole publishing process, where through the implementation of dedicated software (or, to start with, even a mere mailing list) submissions would be visible by editors and authors alike and the peer review process would be similarly done ‘in the open’, with the aim of producing higher-quality material, minimizing delays due to laziness of reviewers, and pruning away authors of low-quality or unoriginal work, who would be immediately exposed and marginalized, where all of this would end up increasing the efficiency and the prestige of the journal.
The details of a (possible) OP are described in the second part of the essay, details developed on the model of the Linux kernel development process (one of Ben’s famous night-time strikes of genius). In other words, the OP model of academic publishing would integrate both the elements of the standard ‘open source’ paradigm: free access to the ‘final’ product and free access to the process of production of the product.
Now, I cannot sufficiently stress how much I like, believe in and support this kind of idea, for such a revolution in the process of publishing is absolutely necessary and long overdue. Our whole academic infrastructure is stuck with quaint, dated and frankly plain anachronistic means of concretizing and publishing the outputs of original research which are its raison d’être.
I believe that the perceived need for this kind of revolution will increase in the next few years. According to Toni OA will be very popular within 5-8 years; I hope sooner than that. Through our brief conversation some elements through which it will be necessary to work in order to bring OA (and eventually OP) in the spotlight arose. I want to re-organize them here:
1) Activism to spread and promote the idea. Provoking enough consensus in both students and staff to force universities’ administrations to actively implement new policies. This will include events, talks and demonstrations (for example, what happened in London last March). Unfortunately, editorial policies of journals and publishing houses are often detached from the purely academic environment, and rely for funding and prestige on research and quality assessments by national councils dependent on government funding. Still, publishing houses and journals, in themselves, produce nothing, as they rely on the imput of ‘raw materials’ from academics. What would happen if scholars (to start with, a number of ‘big names’ would already send a powerful message) would start refusing to publish in non OA journals? An immediate analogy comes to mind, the music industry. With one, big, difference. Publishing scholars do not rely on their publications for economic survival, for that comes from their university salaries. Scholarly publications are only made for the enlargement of knowledge or (as often is the case) for personal glory. But hardly to get rich. (i.e. I have a paper waiting for approval in a ‘prestigious’ journal of comparative philosophy. Even if I’ll get published, my readership will probably be around, if I am lucky, 30-40 people. I will not get a single penny for that, but the journal will require a subscription for the article to be downloaded).
2) Diffusion of sufficient technological literacy in universities. This means that it is not enough to have infrastructures (hardware) and IT departments (to implement the software), if the average academic is not be able to use them. It seems like a trivial point, but I have to met faculty members who ignored the existence of Internet journal archives such as Jstor or IngentaConnect. Among the required skills of existing and new scholars there must be a basic knowledge of the technological means to do proper research. As long as our colleagues, supervisors, deans, and principals do not perceive the need to renew and expand the–often intrinsically nepotistic in their predilection for a closed ‘board’ of peer reviewers–methods of research and production, no large scale implementation will occur. And as long as the technological mean is seen as an obstacle rather than a tool to reduce time-wasting and to increase the amount of feedback (and hence overall quality), those who are comfortable with the old ways will never perceive this need.
3) The elaboration of a philosophical interpretation of OA and OP, to set theoretical coordinates capable of grounding the necessity and exposing the fertility of such a new method of interfacing scholars with their work and with other scholars. This explosion of directionality, disseminating the process of creation of knowledge on a cloud-like structure, hence breaking open the vestigial, quaint, closed-track avenues of thought which are a leftover from pre-digitalization scholarship, will allow for new methods of research, characterized by real-time feedback where the technological mean will drammaticaly increase the space of action for other subjects to serve as members of a networked dialoguing community. The point is that both the network and the actors involved in it (and here I hint at Latour’s actor-network theory, but I will try a complete Latourian reading of OP scholarship when my readings will be completed) will undergo continiuous structural rearrangement: the produced knowledge will modify the infrastructure of communication rather than the other way around.
Scholarship is the tradition of trying to improve, collate and resolve uncertainties. The fundamental ground rules are that no issue is ever closed, no interconnection is impossible. It all comes down to what is written, because the thoughts and minds themselves, of course, do not last (the apparatus of citation and footnote are simply a combination of hat-tipping, go-look-if-you-don’t-believe-me, and you-might-want-to-read-this-yourself). “Knowledge” then–and indeed most of our civilization and what lasts of those previous–is a vasty cross-tangle of ideas and evidential materials, not a pyramid of truth. So that preserving its structure and improving its accessibility, is important to us all. This is why we need hyperlinks and thinkertoys.
So Ted Nelson, in 1974. Today however, we can expand his intuitions and break out of the purely written form, towards new kind of media. A hyperlinked way of indexing knowledge will indeed produce a new hybrid space, where the limits of the written text will be evaded hence creating a new cognitive paradigm in the humans which inhabit it, where linear and intentional subject-object thinking will be replaced by a multilayered approach to reality capable of rearranging the epistemic gaze of humans over the non human world (and here I am thinking of Harman’s object-oriented philosophy).
These thoughts are still quite embryonic, but I do see a line that goes from the ideology of OP through a philosophical re-evaluation of interactions between subjects and between objects towards a new paradigm (or better, towards the dissolution of such a paradigm) of ‘human being’ (and here I have in mind the transhumanist movement and the idea of augmented reality as an expansion on the ‘real world’ of the indexical system of hyperlinking). The vision of Vannevar Bush, if we consider its application to the world of academia, which seems to paradoxically lag behind the internet world, is in most cases still only a vision. 54 years later.
[For a more positive note, I must mention once again the work done in the UK by Gary Hall, in particular when it comes to his OA journal, Culture Machine, which often deals with these kind of themes (see here and especially here), and his recent Digitalize this Book! The Politics of New Media or Why We Need Open Access Now (which, ironically, I don't think is available in OP!!).]
This field is powerfully emerging in these years on the academic scene, and the potential for philosophical speculation are as many as the actual potential for academic and–why not–political renovation. My observations here are partial and still somewhat inconsequential, but the direction–I believe–is the right one. I will soon try and unpack some of these themes in a more systematic fashion. In the meantime, any comment is–of course–very welcome.