I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the nature of academic publishing. Just today I had a manuscript accepted for publication in a special issue of a journal that I myself have no access to (!). I hate that ideas I may be working on only get airing either in conference presentations, or after going through the peer-review process, or by informally passing around a manuscript among friends. I hate that the readership of my work is severely constrained by the publishing model that predominates in 2009.
As I’m working on setting up a new source-control and backup system for my academic manuscripts, I’m wondering: why not to put it all in public (say github) repositories? It’s certainly much easier technically. And it can have other benefits if I want comments during the process.
Three obvious arguments against:
First, there’s a long history of researchers treating their work as proprietary. There are entirely rational reasons for this that have to do with the rewards structure of the academy. In short, you don’t get tenure without being able to brand your work, and there is a competition for new ideas, a concern about people borrowing or stealing those ideas, and so forth.
But, I’m not that concerned about this issue. If ideas are public from the start, the digital paper trail is there such that interested parties can fairly easily determine the provenance of ideas.
The second issue is potentially bigger: peer review. If all work is public from the start, then peer review in theory cannot be blind. But maybe this is all the more reason to push on this idea; blind peer review is both overrated, and a bit of a fiction anyway.
The third issue is related to both of the above: the “previously published” standard for publication. Publishers almost without exception demand you assign copyright of your work to them, and part of involves guarantees that it has never been previously published. What does it mean to publish version-controlled draft work on the web, or to blog pieces as you go?
Maybe I ought to just to go all public, and all open access. Hmm …