better social design: the future of sociology publishing is open-access and on the internet

Aaron Swartz considered himself an “applied sociologist,” but he appears from the outside to have been overtaken most of all by political allegiances, as journalists have illustrated herehere, and here.

However, I can’t stop thinking that Swartz overplayed his hand: the young man’s vision of free and open access to the best scientific research available is an empirical happening and need not be such a strident political cause. In terms of his own self-described intellectual affiliation, we can already definitively say: The future of sociology publishing is and will be open-access and on the internet.

Data show some sociologists are already aware and supportive of this future. Consider a recent interaction at the blog, in which the site’s most prolific contributor (Fabio Rojas — an ensconced academic sociologist) presented an extraordinarily strong case against traditional academic sociology journals and in favor of new web-based publishing models.

The discussion centered around a new paper published by the web site PLOS ONE, “The Geospatial Characteristics of a Social Movement Communication Network,” a paper available on-line using solely on-line data.

Orgtheory published a quick post, recommending the article, but did not mention where it was published. The first comment under the post came from jerrydavisumich, who asked:


To which Teppo, another academic, responded:

Jerry – I’m guessing: open access, visibility and interdisciplinary impact, turnaround times. Different model from our journals (though, I know many of our journals, including ASQ, are doing a much better job these days on turnaround times).

Which was then followed by Fabio Rojas’s impressive interlocution:


Option 1: Spend 1 year writing a 45 page paper and send it to a regular social science journal. Wait 6 months for it to be rejected because it is “a-theoretical” and “just descriptive.” Send it to a second journal, who, after 6 months, will ask for a bunch of revisions, which it takes you 6 months to do. Then send it back. five months later, they accept but conditional on more revisions, which adds two more months. You send it back. 12 moths later you see it in print. Then the journal can only be accessed by people at either universities or those who pay $45 dollars.

Total time from start to finish: (12+6+6+6+5+2+12= 49 months) = 4 years + limited visibility

Option 2: Spend about two months writing a short 6-10 page paper based on a single finding. Send it to a major science journal (e.g., Nature), which rejects after 1 month. Then try PLoS One, which reviews in one month. You spend three more on the R&R and then one month on the final acceptance. It appears one month later and is available to the entire world.

Total time from start to finish: (2+1+1+3+1+1 = 8 months) < 1 year + unlimited visibility

And why, exactly, should people bother with regular social science journals?

Girl, please.

PS. Yes, I know, that you’ve managed to make ASQ fast – and I thank you for that. But Jerry Davis is a Special Person and not representative of the social sciences in general. Our journal system, frankly, reflects our lack of self-respect. We should be embarrassed that nuclear physics and brain surgery gets reviewed in a more timely fashion than a 20 page paper with a few regression tables.

Rojas and Teppo’s rationale was then, in turn, supported by the original questioner, jerrydavisumich:

Thanks Teppo and Fabio, those are good reasons. I’m actually quite intrigued by the PLoS ONE model, and find their statement of aims to be pretty sensible.

My working hypothesis is this interaction represents further textual data supporting the thesis that the future of sociology publishing is open-access and on the internet.*

It is important that even “insider” academics are finding incentive to openly uproot the very structures they mastered on the way to accumulating the capital they have. As thoughtful, reflective insiders, these three academic sociologists represent key “informants” about the future of sociology publishing. Methodologically, informants are important because they lend insider knowledge to qualitative, in this case textual, data. At least theoretically, having access to informants lends validity to the data collected.

Because of these informants’ willingness to blog, and comment on the blog, we have access to better data.

Anyway, perhaps my hypothesis — that text like the above provide insight to anticipate the future arrangements of sociology publishing, and this future looks to be open-access and on the internet — will prove to be wrong. I don’t think it will be, but it certainly could be. In any event, evidently we do know that (a) sociology publishing has already undergone changes. (b) sociology publishing will go through more changes. (c) a conversation about these changes will continue. (d) this conversation will largely take place on the internet. and (e) this conversation will continue to provide data for understanding what is going on.

[This is the fourth post in a series dedicated to the topic of sociology on the internet. I am not sure where this topic will take me; I only hope it to be empirical and to follow events as they happen. The first three posts on the topic are available:

1. here, about the blog Sociological Images.

2. here, about Aaron Swartz, applied sociologist.


3. here, about Tom Medvetz’s blog posts at orgtheory.]

*In addition to simply wanting to empirically document the change, I also politically support the shift to the internet. It will lead to better outcomes, including more timely publication and more open access. In this sense, I understand the reason Swartz was so strident about the politics of publishing: open-access represents better social design. My point is only that this new design is happening.

This entry was posted in Media and knowledge, sociology, Symbolic data. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to better social design: the future of sociology publishing is open-access and on the internet

  1. A) Hear, hear!
    B) This is very much key to what we’re working on with
    –Letta Page, Assoc. Ed.

  2. tina says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, but I rather doubt that the bloggers are a representative slice of the discipline. A bit of selection bias, clearly. But that doesn’t mean that in the future, we won’t be able to convince more and more of our colleagues, does it?

  3. markaustenwhipple says:

    Thanks, Tina. Yes, selection bias! You would know better than I would if Fabio, Teppo, and jerrydavisumich are a “representative slice of the discipline.” But so we’re clear, I don’t intend them to be. Methodologically, to my mind they represent more value as willing informants.

    Also, do you agree the matter won’t rely on “convincing” others to participate? That the shift in the way sociologists will publish is in large part structural, and beyond the control of sociologists?

    • tina says:

      The way I see it, the only thing between us and open access is status. The exclusivity, gatekeeping of ASR can certainly be the same in an open-access journal, but which ones? And how do we all decide which ones? And how much time will pass before people notice that all the great articles are showing up in PLOSiology these days? It might happen gradually, like this, by brave people putting their stuff out in open access and hoping for the best, but I think the smarter route is to convince the (democratically elected) leaders of the ASA to make a shift with the journals they run. So, I see convincing as an important part of the process, but I agree that it is not absolutely necessary.

  4. markaustenwhipple says:

    Thanks, Letta. I love what The Society Pages has going on.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s