January 31, 2010 Chronicle of Higher Education
When Scholars Weigh Publication Options, Tradition Counts
By Jennifer Howard
Although more and more scholars are interested in trying out new technologies as a way to share or publish their research, the traditional cultures of their disciplines and the high regard accorded to peer review still tend to have the strongest influence on them, according to a substantial new report on scholarly communication from the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley.
The report, "Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines," focuses in depth on the fields of archaeology, astrophysics, biology, economics, history, music, and political science. Produced with the help of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the report draws conclusions from interviews conducted over several years with 160 scholars from 45 "mostly elite" research institutions.
Although the seven fields surveyed have very different cultures, which are explored at length in the 733-page report, the executive summary points to the persistence of doing scholarly business as usual. "Experiments in new genres of scholarship and dissemination are occurring in every field, but they are taking place within the context of relatively conservative value and reward systems that have the practice of peer review at their core," the report states. It found that young scholars "can be particularly conservative" in their behavior, perhaps because they have more to lose than senior scholars, who "can afford to be the most innovative with regard to dissemination practices."
If that's the case, younger scholars may just be heeding advice to play it safe.