One of the joys of blogging is the opportunity to relate issues and news items that do not seem to have an obvious connection. Here the only connection is that both involve SSRN — the Social Science Research Network, an open access depository for articles in the social sciences that is a wonderful resource on policy and legal issues.

First I came across this complaint, on a law professor’s blog, about the presence of Google advertisements in SSRN and the odd juxtapositions those ads sometimes create with the content of the paper. Specifically, Professor Leiter reports on a paper dealing sympathetically with a recent labor dispute at a university that was framed with ads for organizations that purported to help keep campuses union-free. The author was, not surprisingly, upset that his article would become the unintended vehicle for a point of view he does not support. Prof. Leiter also mention the uncomfortable relationship some ads seem to have with his own article on religion and law.

One of the realities of open access, of course, is that someone has to pay for the server space, upkeep, and the like. SSRN has a complex funding model that includes deposit fees, institutional subscriptions and — here is the rub — advertisements. Do the advantages of open access outweigh the discomfort that advertisements accompanying scholarly work can cause? I think they do, but read on.

Another recent article in SSRN broadens the question raised by these advertisements to an issue of gatekeeping and elitism. In “Evaluate me! Conflicted thoughts on gatekeeping and legal scholarships new age,” Paul Horowitz explicitly raises the question of how much open access to scholarship disrupts the traditional function of publication to certify and validate scholars and scholarship. Much open access material, of course, has already been peer-reviewed and accepted through the traditional channels of scholarship. But there is a whole new form of scholarly communications out there — informal discussion on blogs and listservs that are often the midwife of formal scholarship. Some may see this as a threat to traditional forms of evaluation and quality control; advertisements seem like a tangible reminder of that threat. But others will see informal and open web communications as a renewal of creativity and an opportunity to democratize the process of scholarship as well as its results. What do you think?


2 Responses to Advertisements, elitism and open access

  1. aisha says:

    The internet provides numerous opportunities for self-publication. Because the web is such an unfiltered vehicle, I can read everything from a teenager’s online journal to NIH sponsored research (at least I will be able to!) I like having both types of information at my finger tips.

    What is important is that I have the ability to discern the difference between the two. This ability coined as “information literacy” is more important than ever. It is necessary because there is no Internet Police monitoring web publication and I hope that there never is.

    Peer reviewed publications have always served as gatekeeper publications and changing the medium of this publication does not change its function. With that said, what your peer says on his or her blog is their prerogative and it is up to the informed reader to form their own opinion about said information.

    Perhaps scholars and librarians should play a role in lending authority to (or taking it away from) certain online publications. Maybe a site that ranks the authority of OA sources will become necessary in the future. This model would allow the “peers” authenticating information to be predefined. Perhaps your peer authenticators could be chosen based on your point-of-view, political leanings, institutional affiliation, etc. This would broaden the interpretation of scholarship, while authenticating it at the same time.

  2. Tim Post says:

    There are many brilliant people who for (whatever reason) were not able to take advantage of public education. I should explain my perspective a bit, I travel globally and tend to consider all people when speaking generally. I’m currently in South East Asia.

    For many reasons, I was not able to complete a stanard education. Quite frankly, I feel rather fortunate to have avoided most of it. What remains as a negative is a lack of credibility that advanced degrees provide should I wish to publish. That is not a significantly weighted concern for me, but does illustrate one trade-off.

    I completely agree that forums, blogs and lists are the ‘midwife’ of scholarship. However, in the same breath, they rekindle scholarship as those who partake advance a collective rather than individual body of knowledge often electing a ‘teacher’ in the process. It is quite remarkable because it is often unintentional. We naturally want to learn.

    One thing that is reliable, many people who use the Internet delight in pointing out mistakes. If done compassionately, this is useful, but often not the case.

    I can only encourage those who were able to complete (or even access) a public education who have free time to ‘jump in’, present credentials and tutor. To me, that seems the ‘scholarly’ thing to do. Explain the issue of error proliferation and how harmful it can be, any reasonable person is likely to respond well if the issue is presented without antagonizing the cluster in question.