Why is the OA debate so focussed on the journal article?

Together with Prof. Jean-Claude Guédon and Ass. Prof. Thomas Wiben Jensen I have just published an article (http://dx.doi.org/10.7557/11.3619) in the new journal “Nordic Perspectives on Open Science” (http://nopos.eu).

In the article the two scholars go beyond the concept of open access and challenge the rather anachronistically way research results are being distributed among scholars today, i.e. through journal articles. 

As Jean-Claude Guédon reflects in the article:

What is striking in the debate about open access is that the notion of open access is not considered in itself; rather, it is refracted mainly by the ways in which it may affect existing dissemination tools, habits, actors, and institutions.

The existing dissemination tools are typically journals and articles. But why is the debate so focussed on the journal article as the channel of knowledge distribution?

Jean-Claude Guédon reflects:

Predictably, because journals and articles are taken to be objects located beyond critical thinking, the sought answer rests on the need to preserve the journal (and the articles it contains). Open access is no longer an objective; it is a potential threat to a familiar and comfortable situation. It is immediately viewed as disruptive. As a result, the discussion finds itself constrained within a framework where the emerging digital world is supposed to emulate the printing world, but do its copying faster, more efficiently, more accurately. This is precisely the point that must be questioned.

Departing from this question an exciting dialogue unfolds between the two scholars. Through a historical and epistemological account of the distribution of knowledge the conversation takes us at a deeper level. While acknowledging the present and historical importance of journals and articles as vehicles for the distribution of knowledge we witness the limitations of these kinds of “frozen moments” due to the lack of speed by which they are being produced and distributed, and, very importantly, also due to the nature of the article format itself.

Rather, the two scholars suggest to experiment with smaller units of intervention in an attempt to “liquefy” the scientific conversation (as has always been the ambition – the invention of the journal aimed at this, too) hence changing the focus from the product (the journal entity) to the process (the exchange of research results).

If this is going to happen, they argue, researchers with sufficient reputation to allow time for experimentation of this sort are needed as well as public funding. And perhaps, it could be argued, a common understanding and agreement that we should be looking ahead for new ways of communicating scientific results other than through the traditional channels like journals and articles is also needed.

Digitization goes far beyond just electrifying journals! Luckily, a lot experimentation is happening in the field. Yet, these experiments only make up tiny, tiny fractions of the total output of published research results.

All this is reflected in the, slightly alternative conversational, article format (!). Please, feel free to join the conversation at http://nopos.eu