Psychological science (my discipline) is pretty conventional/traditional. It has worked very hard (for better AND worse) for acceptance as a “real” science. It still holds anonymous peer review as the gold standard of quality and, in at least some ways, hasn’t yet developed the expectation that a “generalist reader” should be able to access, read, and understand the best and most sophisticated scholarship. That said, there is (I hope) a growing number of scholars who have made it their mission (with their academic institutions’ support) to do the hard work of “translation” of bodies of scholarly work for non-academic audiences. For example, once upon a time, I co-edited/co-wrote a book entitled Everyday Activism: A Handbook for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual People and their Allies that was designed to synthesize existing bodies of research to advance LGB affirming public policy. If I were to embark on such a project today (which I have considered from time to time), it would have to be structured as a website and have sufficient human resources behind it to keep it continuously up to date. Alas, that is a much more ambitious undertaking in comparison to our book, especially with the growth in relevant scientific research. Regardless, this translation function is an important aspect of the scholarly endeavor. If individual scholars are not motivated to summarize their own work in an accessible way, we need to ensure there are avenues and support for others to do this important work and be recognized and rewarded for doing it.
Although my institution was delighted at the publication of my book (whose audience obviously wasn’t other scholars), that may not have been the case at other kinds of institutions. Thus, one thread of the digital scholarship conversation needs to be about what counts more (or less) in the process of tenure. In many cases, the single author paper in a top-notch journal is the ultimate goal. The extent to which young scholars get involved in various forms of scholarship (digital, collaborative, or otherwise) and spend time promoting their work via social media depends in large part on the extent to which such activity counts toward tenure. Even if the demise of tenure is nigh, we still need to consider how such activities fit into whatever guidelines serve as the basis for ongoing evaluation of scholarship. Scholars ignore such criteria at their own peril.
Print journals are becoming obsolete, if they aren’t already. Although the American Psychological Association (arguably the arbiter of quality in the discipline) still publishes dozens and dozens of journals in print form, much of their content is available electronically before the print version is available. More importantly, it is my impression that students rarely bother with anything that isn’t available to them electronically. I hasten to add that receiving the current issues of the print journals to which I am entitled as a perk of membership in professional associations no longer elicits the same reaction. At this point, it’s just one more thing for the recycle bin. Students don’t want them; nor do libraries. Besides, you can’t beat doing your literature search from your home or office and having all of the relevant material delivered to your email inbox, no photocopier required! I spend a great deal of effort attempting to show students how to distinguish between high quality research and the rest of the universe of reading material now available to them through their personal digital devices. As the digital domain expands to include fake news and its scientific equivalents, it gets harder and harder to help students separate the wheat from the chaff.
Another aspect of the digital scholarship conversation that deserves consideration has to do with profit motives of the institutions that control the publication process (even if publication is solely in electronic form). In for-profit publishing, perhaps the money-making motives are more obvious. Recent discussions of predatory publishing underscore the point. But even for well- respected enterprises like the APA, its publishing arm employs a significant staff and its proceeds subsidize other activities over and above the dissemination apparatus. It may be noble to argue that scholarship ought to be free and as readily available as possible. But without a revenue stream, how does the work get done? Who picks up the tab for the infrastructure? How do we continue the other good work that is now subsidized by the fees libraries and members pay for access? Social media are cluttered with ads. Are professional journals to suffer the same fate? I’d welcome some insight into this aspect of the enterprise and would appreciate it if someone would “show me the money.”
Finally, I wonder if it would be beneficial to compare assumptions about the nature of scholarly work itself. Is it essentially (or even primarily) a solitary activity pursued for the most part in private (or perhaps with a few students or collaborators or an occasional conference presentation); the products of which are judged anonymously by (presumably well-informed) peers? Or a “transparent” public process where anyone with computer access gets to provide input, no expertise required? I’m sure the metaphors for this process across the disciplines would differ significantly, but as long as it means something to be the senior or sole author on a paper published in a peer reviewed, high quality journal (digital or print), then there is motivation for the solitary/private approach, despite any advantages associated with the alternatives.