Open Access To Humanities – Data, Data Everywhere But Not a Thought To Think

The title quote belongs to Theodore Roszak, the man behind the making of the counter culture of 1960s, and the one who “raged against the machine” most violently. However, could a “machine” herald a new era of providing thoughts instead of data on the humanities, arts and social sciences?

Genomics or Greek Grammar – What is More Urgent?

humanitiesPeter Suber has diagnosed a condition of Open Access to humanities and reasoned its slow movement by saying: “There is more public demand for open access to research on (say) genomics than Greek grammar, which is one reason why genomics has more federal funding than Greek grammar.” However, that was long time ago, and some progress has been made but the clue issues that Suber pointed back then are still stepping on the toes of the Open Access to Humanities:

  • Humanities journals are still affordable and they defuse the urgency of reducing prices or turning to open access as part of the solution
  • Much more STM (Science, Technology, Medicine) research is funded than humanities research
  • On average, humanities journals have higher rejection rates (70-90%) than STM journals (20-40%). This means that the cost of peer review per accepted article is higher in the humanities
  • The urgency of timely notification of other work is greater in the STM fields than in the humanities
  • Humanities journals often want to reprint poems or illustrations that require permission from a copyright holder
  • Journal articles are the primary literature in the STM fields. But in the humanities, journal articles tend to report on the history and interpretation of the primary literature, which is in books

The Pain For the Cure

As obvious, the cure for Open Access to Humanities has many pains and so far those who have voted on administering it as such, were mostly independent libraries and University departments. However, the year that harvested OA mandates so well might have gathered accidentally the most unusual crop. The recent announcement of launching the Sage Open journal claims to provide a material spanning all disciplines in the arts and the social sciences. Open Humanities Press (OHP), an OA publishing initiative in the humanities, has recently launched an OA book series since the book is the “gold” standard for humanists. Garry Hall, co-founder of OHP and the co-editor of Culture Machine, acknowledges nonetheless: “The publication of (humanities research findings) is less time sensitive. You haven’t cured an important disease for which people need to know the results quickly.” Rebecca Pool reports about another similar initiative in her article, and recognizes the potential of Bloomsbury Academic Publisher, selling humanity books under an OA model and publishing them simultaneously online and in print. She also points out to OAPEN, a European Commission funded project, “endeavoring to develop a sound OA publication model for academic books in the humanities and social sciences.” Rebecca concludes her overview: “It’s not all about cash; the way in which these academics carry out research is very different too.”

Smartening the Machine

Jonathan Gray from the Open Knowledge Foundation has offered slide presentations recently that discuss the reasons for providing “Open Data in the Arts and Humanities”. He claims: “Researchers are clever, computers are stupid.” He also points out to new digital tools which may enable us to improve large scale collaboration and map the research and citations, to perform computer assisted analysis such as data mining, and finally to represent complex information in more intuitive ways, to answer questions like “Who wrote to who?”, “Who read whom?”. In this light, machine may be enabled to produce thoughts instead of data and accordingly propose a challenge to humanists to show what they tend to keep “in their pockets” and behold the results, since finally, humanists are all about – thoughts. And perhaps we need urgently the cure for thoughtlessness.

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