Is It the Gate or the Stuff Inside?

5 April 2013, 1034 EDT

One of the topics online and at the ISA has been the gated-ness of academic writings.  Journal articles are almost always behind a paywall so that ordinary folks cannot get at them.  This is likely to change as many folks are now complaining and the threat of ditching academic publishers for the net may force the journal publishers into being responsive.  We are already seeing more journals temporarily providing open access to various articles and issues.

But, I am afraid, my friends, that is almost entirely irrelevant.  Why?  Because why would any ordinary person want to read a jargon filled hunk of social science?  That is, the academic articles we are produce are indeed intended to be read by other scholars, so paywall or not, these pieces are not accessible.

I am not advocating that journals and academics change the way articles are written.  Peer review and all that have problems, but I do think we need an intra-poli sci conversation, presenting our research to each other.

What we need to do is provide supplements to that intra-academic discussion so that our work can be digested by those who have not been trained in social science.  Folks should be required to provide, dare I say it, blog posts or something like it to journals when they submit their articles–a less arcane, more transparent, more accessible summary of the research paper that they seek to publish.  Then, when the article gets published in the journal, the journal’s website would post the blog post.  Yes, you can see abstracts already but they are too short (750 words is 3x 250 and 5 x 150), and they are not written for non-academic audiences.

Yes, it would require academics to develop their writing skills so that they can communicate beyond the academy, but most of us are getting public support one way or another.  So, we should be obligated to disseminate.

The funny thing is that ungating will be easier than my alternative.  Easier to get journal publishers to be threatened by the web and figure out ways to improve access than to get all academics to write 750 words more and in more everyday language.  Even though the latter is far cheaper in $ spent than the former.