In commenting on my last post ("The Open Scholar") Jon Wallin asked a very fair question:
What would you say to an assistant professor approaching his third-year review? His job and way of life are on the line if he can't demonstrate his contribution to academia in the old, closed-access paradigms (scholarly articles and monographs).
Even if one buys into the open scholar ideals, is it just too risky?Navigating between the old and new paradigms for scholarship is going to be tricky and will depend a lot on the particular discipline, institution, and person involved. Just don't buy into the "compromise" of first getting yourself established within the existing system by publishing conventionally. That is the standard line given to would-be academic innovators; however, this is an insidious proposition, since it really requires a young scholar to withdraw from any serious engagement with any community except that niche peer group who must be satisfied in order to gain tenure. By the time one does attain tenure, he or she is convinced that the public doesn't really matter, and that the only real work of consequence is what that handful of specialists acknowledges as such. In fact, the tenured professor begins to see it as a mark of having arrived that he or she then requires the same thing of the next generation of scholars. You don't end up revising the system; you just become an agent of it, making others "pay their dues" just as you had to. Kenneth Burke talks about "occupational psychosis" (being trained NOT to see, or becoming intellectually disabled, while one is in the process of being professionalized). Academic professionalization (which Burke was outside of as a private scholar) is a classic case of that myopia. By the time academics are in a position not to be subject to their own limits, those limits have been naturalized and are not subject to question.
I don't think it is impossible for someone to take a middle way. One can publish conventionally and also be a public intellectual producing open scholarship and participating in this broader way. But one must choose one's identity and keep that public orientation a priority--no small task in the present environment. It will be all too easy to prioritize one's work according to what gets measured (and right now online work is ignored or discounted). When all the department chair cares about is whether you have another standard, peer-reviewed publication on your CV for the year, it will seem less and less important to keep blogging your research or doing anything public or open in the way I'm advocating.
Since the dawn of the Internet professors have been told not to be wasting time on online endeavors at the expense of the "real" publishing they could be doing. You have to be strong enough to resist that head-in-the-sand approach. Hopefully, the culture of academia will start coming around and this will be less of an issue. But for young scholars, I suggest that at the point of hire one makes clear the type of scholar one wishes to be. And the best way to make a case for being an open scholar in the future is to have been one in the recent past. That's why I urge graduate students not to wait to get their ideas circulating. Imagine what future search committees will be like. They will not simply look at a pile of paper resumes or a CV of traditional publications. Anyone that is seriously of interest to the more enlightened search committees of the near future will be of interest because his or her thinking, acting, and publishing (formal and informal publishing) will be broadly evident online.
If you follow the old model just to play it safe, saving up your ideas to share once they are in a perfected form and then burying them in toll-access publications, you might be visible to those few hundred people who happen to subscribe to that scholarly journal, but you are effectively invisible to the world. I know I would look for young scholars who have not simply published, but who have engaged multiple audiences. Prove yourself by leaving a visible trail of your thinking and of your various projects, formal or informal. As long as you make this a priority--to the point that it is natural for you to be constantly publicly engaged with your thinking--then any traditional publishing you do can complement or supplement this. But if the priority is the opposite, if you buy into the hype that the only real or substantial contributions you can make are through those highly limited and dimmed outlets of conventional peer-reviewed publishing, you will hobble yourself and simply become another agent of the moribund scholarly communications system. I don't think that things are that bleak. I think people are starting to wake up to the dignity of open scholarship. But you do have to take a stand, and you will not be very credible in making that stand if you wait until you have tenure. That will just prove that you were never really invested in being a public intellectual or an open scholar.
I have appreciated the work of danah boyd. You might take a look at her famous blog post in which she talks about rejecting publishing in any non-open access journals. Look at her list of proposed actions, which she gears to people at different career points. I think that is helpful (though I would broaden her recommendations beyond simply publishing in open access journals): http://bit.ly/3OXKr5