As I have argued before, the post-journal academic world is here. We no longer have to build it. The post-journal era of academic publishing does not involve a radical change in the way we do our work, and it doesn’t involve a rejection of academic principles. On the contrary, it is an affirmation of those principles. It allows us to do more of what we have done in the past, and it allows us to do it better and more openly. Without journals, we can get more eyes on our scholarship to evaluate it and to drive our work and the work of others forward, and we can get our results and our thoughts out faster to those who need them.
The post-journal world is a natural evolution of the journal world, which itself was an evolution of the salon-science world. Each transition has allowed an increase in the number of participants in the scholarly process, an acceleration of our work, and an increase in the number of people who have access to its benefits. Journals reach more people than can fit in a salon, and blogs reach more people than can subscribe to journals. More, more useful, and timelier critique can come from a blog post than from a journal article or from a salon presentation.
Things have changed considerably in academic publishing in the past 20 years. Open access journals are now plentiful, some are very good, some very bad. In some open access models, authors pay for publication and access is free to readers. Some even completely reverse the traditional model by charging a subscription fee to authors instead of to readers. Other journals manage to be free for both authors and readers. Some are funded by universities, some by foundations, and some operate on a shoestring provided by whoever is willing. All these models have their pros and cons which are endlessly debated in the community.
While these various open access journal models are interesting and useful, the reality is that they are bridging models. They are transitional forms. We don’t yet fully realize that we simply don’t need open access journals, or any journals at all. We don’t need to debate the pros and cons of various open access models. We have moved beyond them.
Anyone, anywhere, with negligible expense, can now make their research results available to all. Anyone, anywhere, with negligible expense, can now participate in the review and evaluation of anyone else’s posted research results. Anyone can distribute and bring visibility to research results or reviews.
The post-journal academic publishing landscape allows more diverse types of publication. The expense and the competition now involved in securing a slot in a respected peer-reviewed journal all but precludes several classes of publications that would otherwise be very important:
It is now next to impossible to publish a small interesting, and useful result. It must be part of a larger work which justifies the monopolization of a valuable slot.
Journals are notoriously uninterested in negative results. Yet, these are often very informative, and critically, they are often encountered by graduate students working as part of larger teams. Allowing the publishing of negative results overwhelmingly helps grad students who are starting to establish their academic credentials.
Replication studies are dangerously difficult to publish in traditional journals. One only has to read recent studies on the subject in many fields to realize that more replication is better, and that devaluing replication is extremely risky.
In the post-journal academic publishing world, anyone, anywhere, with negligible expense, regardless of their name recognition factor or their academic status, can post and bring attention to a small interesting, and useful result, a negative result, or a replication study. Any one of us can participate in the review and evaluation of these results. Any one of us can be impacted by them.
Nothing prevents us from making all of our work available this way. Nothing prevents us from getting our work reviewed by others before we post it. Nothing prevents us from inviting others to review it after we have posted it.
From a career perspective, students and junior scholars, whether academically affiliated or not, will be the main beneficiaries of this evolution from journal to blog. But overall, the public will benefit most, just as they benefited most from the relative democratization of scholarship which followed the transition from salon to journal.
The role of more established scholars in this transition is to challenge our colleagues on granting committees and Faculty performance review committees to ignore the high quality, peer reviewed, significant work we publish in the new landscape, outside of journals. We must put there such work there that they will not be able to ignore it, that they must acknowledge it. We must, whenever we sit on such committees, consider work posted online on an equal footing with material published in traditional journals. We must make the case to our more skeptical colleagues that the work be evaluated on its merit rather than with the arbitrary shorthand of journal impact factor or prestige of the editorial board. We must offer to handle the review process for our colleagues and take on the role of editor of a post when asked.
I have started doing these things, and I resolve to continue. I invite you to do the same.