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The digital scholar
The digital scholar

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2 Interdisciplinarity: on the rise or decline?

Described image
Figure 9 Open or not?

This week sets out possibilities for how social media can help reduce the barriers between disciplines, because it is relatively easy to make connections. However, as the number of people in a network increases it becomes more difficult to follow those beyond your own discipline. There is often talk of social media (such as Twitter) becoming something of an echo chamber. People tend to follow others who are similar to them and have similar interests. In this way digital scholarship works against increased interdisciplinarity.

There are possibilities for interdisciplinarity that digital scholarship affords however. For instance, it is relatively easy to establish a new journal now. One can use a blogging platform, or an open source journal system such as the Open Journal Systems [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Prior to digital technology, establishing a journal was a costly business, and thus the economics needed to establish that there would be sufficient demand to justify print runs, distribution, and running costs. While it is by no means free to establish a journal now, it is cheaper, and easier. This makes the possibility of interdisciplinary journals which might have a limited market more viable.

Another aspect of digital scholarship that favours interdisciplinarity is open access publishing and the release of open data. Open access is usually interpreted to mean ‘free online access to scholarly works’, and openly licensed so it is also free from copyright constraints.

There are two main methods by which open access is realised:

  • The gold route – where the publishers make a journal (or an article) open access. For commercial publishers, fees received through the subscription model from library must be recouped, so an Article Processing Charge (APC) is levied. The gold route does not necessarily require APCs, however. That is just one model of making it viable.
  • The green route – where the author self-archives a copy of the article, either on their own site or increasingly on an institutional repository, such as the Open University’s Open Repository Online (ORO).

With the gold route, the emphasis stays with the journal, and with the green route, it shifts to the article, and repositories.

In many countries mandates have been established that state that the outputs of any publicly funded research should be published conforming to the open access ethos. The argument is that this work has been funded by the taxpayer, so they should have access to the findings. Similar mandates are arising now with the data relating to such research, so open data repositories are being established. This allows others to access the data.

This open approach allows for a degree of interdisciplinarity to arise through a number of routes. Firstly, open access publication means that those who do not subscribe to a particular journal because it is outside their discipline, can now access that work. Secondly, open data allows for different data sets to be combined, or used, in different ways. Lastly, open access journal articles can be combined from different disciplines into new combinations, because no cost is associated with doing so, thus creating an interdisciplinary intersection.

Activity 4 Influences

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Consider the different influences, the ease and speed of sharing for example, on interdisciplinarity that arise as a consequence of digital scholarship, compared with your current exposure and experience of interdisciplinarity. Overall, do you think digital scholarship leads to an increase in interdisciplinarity occurring? Or does it lead to some aspects being easier and others more difficult? Make notes or post on your blog.

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