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Hello, (Open) world

20 February 2014

BA logoThis will be – if I am consistent about it – the blog for my three-year British Academy Post Doctoral Fellowship research programme on Open Access based at the Cardiff University School of Social Sciences. The official title of the project is The social boundaries of scientific knowledge: a case study of ‘green’ Open Access.

To give a (too) short description, the project will look at how Open Access (OA) publishing happens in physics. Open Access, if you haven’t heard about it, is one of the hottest topics in academia at large and is starting to look like a phenomenon that may soon revolutionise the way that academics publish, disseminate and even just conceptualise and carry out their research. Why look at physics? Because in several subject-areas (mainly high energy physics) OA is and has been the de facto standard for disseminating new knowledge for quite a while now through the use of the arXiv pre-print server. Although the idea of Open Access publishing, particularly through pre-prints, is new-ish to many academics, it’s ubiquity in physics is not surprising given the fact that the practice of distributing  pre-prints amongst colleagues in physics goes back to long before Open Access became fashionable talk; arXiv founder Paul Ginsparg (whom I will be interviewing sometime this year as part of my own project and in collaboration with another ESRC project led by Professor Harry Collins, also at Cardiff University) has written about how arXiv is  simply the natural evolution of a ubiquitous practice in physics that was made incredibly easier, faster and more universally accesible by the appearance of the Internet.

The BA project will focus on working out in a deeper fashion the connection between the social dynamics of physics that allows arXiv to work so well in disseminating knowledge through the moderated but non-peer reviewed route of so-called ‘green‘ OA (or self-archiving). I will look at how moderation is constructed and implemented and how this defines what is considered accepted knowledge by the arXiv user communities. This should provide us with a better illustration of how the implementation of a successful OA channel is the result of an ongoing interplay between a scholarly community’s needs and the possibilities allowed and expanded by novel technological tools. Simultaneously, the ESRC project will  analyse how boundaries in professionalised physics at large are created to distinguish it from ‘unorthodox’ or ‘non-standard’ physics. These inherently socially-constructed boundaries allow physicists to work out what part of published knowledge is in fact a relevant contribution to their field of specialisation.

Both projects aim to inform ongoing policymaking debates in the field of Science and Technology studies: discussions about which are the best routes to implement OA policies at a UK nationwide level for the BA project in the wake of the controversialFinch Report‘, and the issue of how policymakers can best use scientific expertise to make robust and well-informed political decisions.


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