new business model of scholarly journals and buying off citations?

I have noticed that scholarly journals are increasingly making their articles available for free if the authors pay certain fees. The fees can be quite expensive (several thousand dollars). I was told that making the article available online for free certainly increases its exposure and thus potentially increase its citation number. As an author, I want my work to be read widely. But this practice of paying for open access does raise a question. Can it create a situation where the work by the authors who cannot afford these fees will not be read and cited as much as those who can afford? What will be the long-term consequence of the nature of scientific inquiries, if we primarily read the work that are convent to find and download, because the authors could afford the price of making them “open”?  

reactionary science

Yesterday I twitted that the current discussion on healthcare IT seem to ignore 30+ years of research by the IS community. For example, Nicholas Carr wrote:

“There is a widespread faith, beginning at the very top of our government, that pouring money into computerization will lead to big improvements in both the cost and quality of health care. As this study shows, those assumptions need to be questioned – or a whole lot of taxpayer money may go to waste. Information technology has great promise for health care, but simply dumping cash into traditional commercial systems and applications is unlikely to achieve that promise – and may backfire by increasing costs further.”

There is nothing really new in his comments. What he is observing is probably one of the most well researched topics in our field. I felt that people who work on healthcare IT should pick up some of the classic works in our field to avoid many of the mistakes that many firms that tried to implement IT in the past made. As Brian Butler commented,

“The simple reality is that healthcare is 10-20 years behind with regard to IT and IS management. While there are differences – much of what we teach undergraduates and MS students is significant insight to them….

In response to my posting, however, couple of my colleagues commented that the problem is really the journals of the field. For example, Kevin Desouza wrote:

“it is a shame when a field that is supposed to study IS has a 2 year backlog on average in terms of publishing information. We do not practice what we preach”

While I do agree with Kevin that it takes too long to get anything published in our journals and that some of the delay can be removed by using information technology more effectively, I am not sure if the time lag in the publication process is indeed the source of the problem. I doubt the current problem will go away even if we have real-time publication mechanism for scholarly works. I wonder perhaps it has to do with the way we think about the role of social science in general. The issue of relevance is not particularly constrained to the field of information systems; instead, it permeates in most social science fields as Flyvbjerg makes abundantly clear in his book, “Making Social Science Matter”.

Much of the social science in its current form is reactionary in its nature. As Dick Boland has said many times, social scientists became “historians of the recent past and gear students up to reproduce it”. Instead of creating new and better realities, we are busy reacting to what has already happened. Whether it happened two months ago or two years ago, we will be still busy documenting the recent past as long as we follow this reactionary mode of science. What is necessary, then, is not just eliminating the lag time. Instead, we need to shift our attention from documenting the recent past to imagining new future. When rocket scientists built rockets to go to Moon, they did not document how someone else went to Moon. They made it happen. They built new rockets. They designed the new lunar lander. They built new organization structures to support their work. They invented the relational database. They were not reacting. They were acting and pro-acting. The world can tolerate two years of time lag, if what we produce are theoretical, empirical, and instrumental tools that can indeed make this world a better place. What we need is scholarly works that lead to new human actions.

Of course, this is not a new idea. Late Herbert A. Simon has argued for the sciences of the artificial. More recently, Law and Urry (2004), in their article, “Enacting the social” (Economy ad Society, 33:3, 390-410), so eloquently argued that “social inquiry and its methods are productive: they (help to) make social realities and social worlds. They do not simply describe the world as it is, but also enact it.” They further suggest that social scientists need to re-imagine themselves and their methods in order to better deal with the fleeting, the distributed, the multiple, the sensory, the emotional, and the kinaesthetic. With these, and many other efforts underway, I hope we will be able to make our scholarly work matter more.

scientific writing

Yesterday, I re-twitted @markwhiting who wrote, “So many academic papers should not have been published.” Several people commented that they liked the posting. This made me think about scientific writing and its value in the society. What I do for my living is scientific writing. I do research in order to write. I communicate my findings through writing and teaching. People often listen to what I have to say, read what I write, and even pay me for what I am doing (perhaps for what I know).

When one looks at the history of science, it is very clear that the science occupies a very special place in the discourse in our society. We — those who do academic (or scientific) writing — are given a privileged voice in the contemporary society. Just as in the medieval age when priests could invoke the name of God in order to settle disputes, we can say to laypeople “in the name of science”. People do listen to what we say and what we write, not because of who we are and what we do, but because we draw on the authority of science in saying what we say. In the same way that priests had certain aura of authority in the past, “scientists” in today’s have certain sense of authority in all aspects of life. From N1H1 virus, to the design of new airplane that needs to be tested, to the safety of cereals we eat in the morning, to the forensic evidence used to convict someone as a murderer, science often has the last word.

Yet, precisely what is it that we do as science remain largely mysterious to many people. Popper’s notion of falsification as the basis of science in this sense is very important and intriguing in this context. Reacting to the predominance of logical positivism, Popper begins with the limitations of empiricism and the logic of induction (particularly the issue of universal knowledge). Thus, the idea of falsification denies the complete “knowability” of Truth (with a big T), pointing out all human scientific knowledge is temporary and falsifiable. So, unlike other forms of claim, scientific claim acknowledges its limit and use it as the basis of its value. The very fact that it can be falsified creates never-ending opportunity to advance humanity into the domain where we’ve never been to.

So, coming back to my tweet and my own sense of value of what I do, what I do is valuable not only because I am right, but also because I know and acknowledge that I can be wrong. In that sense, science can never replace religion or old tradition, which gained their power precisely out ofunshakable commitment to believe that they are right. Of course, I see many scientists today who think their values are based on what they know to be right, which makes them no more than contemporary equivalent of shamans. And, I see lots of them.