CK: Let's be optimistic for a second. I also think that “homogenization” is not necessarily a bad thing. There are some huge potential benefits to going with WB with respect to marketing and dissemination, and I think that every journal editor and section president should hold them to the promises that they've made. The range of bundles and formats will be much more complex when compared to AnthroSource as we knew it. And because our journals are just part of the larger WB anthropology offerings now, WB claims it will be better at marketing subscriptions (both in bulk and individually) to libraries and universities. On this, I trust they can do a better job (I don't know if they will but they can).
Or let's take another example: Because WB uses the same set of standards across all their journals, small specialized journals will benefit whenever big journals suggest a change—a rising tide carries all boats. So every time a biologist complains that their journal, Big, Important Issues in Biology, isn't showing up in Google Scholar, and WB fixes it, then Completely Obscure but Still Important Issues in Phenomenological Anthropology will also start showing up in Google Scholar. By contrast, the AAA listens to small journals, but is unable to do much to help them at a large scale. So the size and monopolistic tendencies of the publishing industry can have some positive externalities, especially when it comes to standardization. Large-scale standardization also potentially makes our research more “computable.” We all know that things like the number of articles (or books) published in peer-reviewed journals and their citation counts are really impoverished metrics of scholarly success. But what if there were other, better metrics that measured peer reception, reuse, argument, and critique?4 What if it were possible to generate statistics on how many times an article were taught in classes or discussed on a blog or mentioned in a presentation? What if WB made it easy for research articles to be added to a syllabus, course management website, or other teaching resource, and kept good statistics on that? Wouldn't that be a nice demonstration of success in a tenure file?
MMJF: I'm not sure I want to go down the rabbit hole of more numbers and metrics to evaluate faculty just because we might be able to come up with more complex numbers and metrics. No matter how well it is done I am afraid that going in this direction is going to prevent us from thinking outside the box and getting locked in to one way to evaluate faculty productivity. But I agree that the possibility of sampling many different metrics of significance is interesting. The question is, how do we get operations like WB to add a metric like readership among NGO communities? How could they tell us that others are reading our work and understanding it rather than simply citing it?
KC: That's an important question. Currently departments are ranked by the National Research Council using metrics based on the natural sciences and engineering, which are really poor metrics to use if you are attempting to understand how the humanities and social sciences work. The emphasis here should be on coming up with and implementing methods by which the circulation of our work is tracked and then measured rather than attempting to come up with some single metric that will work for all disciplines. Rigorous self-archiving by scholars is an important part of this—and we don't need to wait for our institutions, the AAA or anyone else to do it for us.5 One can archive work in open archives like the recently launched Mana'o Project (http://manao.manoa.hawaii.edu/).
KC: It's not nearly as difficult as it used to be to self-archive via a blog, or to e-mail a copy of your paper to your institutional repository, which allows one the flexibility to make work available all in one place with the relevant metadata and links. Also one can track circulation (to some degree) using Google Analytics or other services. This is not a perfect system, but it is a good way to get started. Best of all, it allows you to make your work available as you like. Perhaps I make my field notes available on my blog, but only to the people with whom I have worked. Perhaps I allow only thumbnails of photos taken in the places I work to be downloaded by anyone, but collaborators can download high-resolution versions. There are a number of ways we can think about this continuum of access and distribution without being locked into one model. We also need to find ways to balance what parts of this labor are worth paying for versus what restrictions we are willing to accept. It costs time and money to do Open Access, just as it does conventional publication, but debate in academia should be about increasing or managing circulation, not paying for access.
JJ: Exactly. The challenge for us now is to retain rights to our work that we may have to sign away to publish in an AAA journal. As an editor (for the time being) of an AAA journal, I can tell you from experience that there are some uncertainties in the AAA author's agreement. It's up to authors and editors to carefully think about what rights need to be maintained in terms of remixing and circulating the work they publish in AAA journals.
ARG: I agree—just because WB is all about standardization doesn't mean that standardization has to be all about WB.
Posted by Christopher Kelty on August 11, 2008