Academic Commons Solution Stories

In academy commons, the form research is disseminated in is determined by the needs of the research itself

Academy commons encourage research to be disseminated in the form that makes the most sense for that research: i.e. as a dataset, software, clinical practice notes, letters, blogs... or articles and monographs. They discourage the use of inappropriate forms solely for reasons of tradition, metrics, or to satisfy reward or evaluation systems (e.g. the publication of an article in order to claim credit for a dataset or a print monograph to satisfy the needs of a tenure committee).


Research outputs are anything that comes out of scientific/scholarly endeavors: ideas, drafts, data, texts, protocols, code, discussions, analyses and more. These research outputs are disseminated through the conscious, discrete/continuous, manual/automatic act of making research objects available to people and machines other than (those of) the creator.


Current reward systems in scholarship essentially recognize only two types of outputs, depending on the domain and discipline: the journal article or the book. Within these categories, there are variants, e.g., letters, preprints; but essentially all scholarly outputs must be turned into narrative. Likewise, our current citation system, on which many reward metrics are based, treats publication in textual narrative form as the norm.


The problem, however, is that this requires researchers to shoehorn all research results into this narrative format, regardless of the intrinsic appropriateness for the output itself. The most famous example, perhaps, is provided by Phil Bourne, where he wrote a paper that “nobody reads” about the Protein Data Bank (PDB), which is heavily cited. The PDB itself is heavily used, but without a system of data citation in place, the use is woefully underreported. Similar problems are also commonly reported in the Digital Humanities, where researchers are required to produce print formats (particularly the scholarly monograph) to satisfy tenure and promotion committees.


This system is wasteful at best and a hindrance to scholarship at worst. It encourages works which clearly should be disseminated in one form (e.g. as software, a database, a blog, a tweet, or an annotation) to be turned into papers in order to be counted for credit. It in some disciplines also encourages the piecemeal publication of results (“minimal publishable units” or “salami slicing”) to the detriment of larger synthesis and conclusions. In yet other fields, it has the opposite effect, encouraging publication in monograph form of material that is better suited to shorter formats.


This principle is closely associated with the principle​s​ of attribution. The current situation is encouraged by reward systems which are themselves not part of academy commons. Overall the two main things holding developments back are sticking to print culture in an online environment and using the scholarly communication system for career advancement.


Adapted from Version .05 Force11 Commons Principles


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Idea No. 43