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The digital scholar
The digital scholar

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1.2 Publishing research

A photograph of library books on a shelf.
Figure 2  Publishing

The relationship with publishing is a tense one. While many researchers effused support for open access, for instance, with James et al. (2009) reporting 77 per cent agreement with the principle of open access publishing, there were also reservations about quality or, more significantly, perceptions by others of quality. Similarly Proctor et al. (2010) found that print journals were rated as more important than online ones.

What this indicates is the strong relationship between academic journals and recognition. It is through publishing in well-renowned journals that researchers are likely to gain tenure or promotion and also to be recognised in their own institution. There is thus a disincentive inherent in scholarly practice to explore new forms of publication, even when the majority of researchers themselves may support them. This is also related to reputation and identity. If other forms of output are perceived as frivolous then early stage researchers in particular will be discouraged from engaging with them. The academic with tenure, however, is often more willing to experiment with new technologies and forms of dissemination, as their reputation is already established. For instance, in the US context at least, Kroll and Forsman (2010) claim that ‘the issue of open access publishing elicited strong support with faculty who want to share their publications freely. However, faculty express a strong preference for their graduate students to publish in traditional high-impact journal’.

Harley et al. (2010) put it even more bluntly:

Established scholars seem to exercise significantly more freedom in the choice of publication outlet than their untenured colleagues …

The advice given to pre-tenure scholars was consistent across all fields: focus on publishing in the right venues and avoid spending too much time on public engagement, committee work, writing op-ed pieces, developing websites, blogging, and other non-traditional forms of electronic dissemination.

Academic research is then in a strange position where new entrants are encouraged to be conservative while the reinterpretation of practice and exploration is left to established practitioners. This seems to be the inverse of most other industries, where ‘new blood’ is seen as a means of re-energising an organisation and introducing challenging ideas. This should be an area of concern for academia if its established practice is reducing the effectiveness of one of its most valuable inputs, namely the new researcher.

One area that is seeing significant change is the open access approach to data. There is a driver in this area from research funders, who are implementing policies which place data sets as a public good, with frameworks and services for discovery, access and reuse. In the United Kingdom, five of the seven research councils now have such policies (Swan and Brown, 2008). There is variation across the disciplines, where many have an already established practice of sharing data and others where this is not the norm.