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Let’s use award incentives to promote open scholarship (at ASA this year!)

At the American Sociological Association of America meetings in Montreal next month, I will begin a one-year term as chair of the Family Section. I’m honored to have been elected to this position, and will do my best to make a positive contribution in that role. Besides doing the job in the normal ways — organizing our sessions at the conference next year, coordinating committees, and so on — I will bring a proposal to the section’s council to open our graduate student paper award. Here’s what I mean.

Steps toward solutions

Sociology has an inertia problem with regard to open scholarship. Lots of us understand that it would be better if our work was shared faster and more freely. That would be better for the generation and dissemination of new knowledge, it would promote collaboration, reduce costs to the public, and increase our capacity for engagement with each other and the public. Unfortunately, the individual steps toward that goal are unclear or daunting. Many of us need promotion and tenure, which requires prestige, which is still driven by publication in the paywalled journals that work against our open goals: they slow down dissemination, restrict access to our work, and bilk our institutions with exorbitant subscription fees.

To help overcome this inertia, a group of us have created SocArXiv, a non-profit, open access, open source archive of social science research that allows free, immediate publication of papers at any stage of the publication process. When and if the papers are published in a peer-reviewed journal, the preprint version can link to the journal version, providing a free copy of the paywalled paper. (Here’s an example of a new paper published in American Sociological Review, with a free copy on SocArXiv, which includes a link to the ASR version). In the meantime, the paper is available to our peers and the public. It provides a time-stamped record of the development of our original ideas, and is discoverable through Google Scholar and other search tools. People can still get their jobs and promotions, but the quality, efficiency, and reach of our research is improved. And part of what we are rewarding is open scholarship itself.


Using awards

SocArXiv, of which I’m director, is trying to get the word out and encourage the use of our system, and open scholarship in general. One of our new ideas is opening paper awards. This may help people get in the habit of openness — and start to see its benefits — and also work against the negative impression that many people have of open access as a cesspool of low quality work. We hope this intervention will be especially effective coming early in the career of up-and-coming scholars.

Using its grant money and support from academic libraries, SocArXiv is offering sections of the ASA — like the Family Section — $400 to transport their paper award winner to the conference next year, if they using the archive as the submission platform for their awards. I’m bringing this proposal to the Family Section (and one just like it to the Population Section, of which I’m Secretary Treasurer).

We hope the open paper award will become a common best practice in our association — still providing the prestige and reward functions of the award, but also promoting best practices with regard to open scholarship, increasing our visibility, building the scholarly communication infrastructure of the future, and generating buzz for our conference and our research.

There are possible objections to this idea. Here are a few, with my responses:

  • Sharing unpublished work will lead to someone stealing their ideas. You protect yourself by posting it publicly.
  • We shouldn’t promote the dissemination of research that hasn’t been peer reviewed yet. We do this all the time at conferences, and SocArXiv allows posting updated versions that replace the original when it is revised.
  • This would impose a burden on people submitting papers. Being considered for an award is a privilege, not a right; it’s OK to require a short, free submission process.
  • Sharing a paper publicly will compromise its publishability later. All ASA journals, and all journals worthy of our support, allow posting preprints prior to publication. Here’s a list of 25 top journals and their policies.


In the case of the Family Section, it looks like no change in the bylaws is needed, because they don’t specify the submission process for the graduate student paper award. They state:

Best Graduate Student Paper Award. The committee will be chaired by the Section Chair. Two additional members of the Section will be appointed by the Section Chair. The committee will select a best paper from among nominations submitted. Papers, dealing with a family-related topic, may be either published or unpublished and must have been writted by a graduate student (or group of graudate students) while still enrolled in a graduate program. The award, in the form of a Plaque and citation, shall be presented at a Section Reception (or, in the event no reception is held, at a Business Meeting of the Section).

Instead, I think we can just revise the call for award nominations, like this:

The Family Section Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award

​Deadline: 3/13/2018

Graduate students are invited to submit an article-length paper on the family. The paper should represent a finished product rather than a proposal for future work. The submission can be based on a course paper, a recently published journal article, a manuscript under review at a journal, or a conference presentation. Co-authored papers are acceptable if all authors are students, although the prize will be shared. The paper must have been written when the author was enrolled in a graduate program. The paper may not exceed 30 pages or 11,000 words. Submissions are made by posting the paper on SocArXiv and sending a link to the paper to the committee chair, Philip N. Cohen, at pnc@umd.edu. To submit your paper, go to SocArXiv.org, and click “Add a preprint.” If you don’t yet have an account, you will fill out a short form — it’s free, non-profit, and won’t spam you! For assistance, contact socarxiv@gmail.com or consult the FAQ page. Please indicate whether you would like your paper to be included in a public list of submissions (this will not affect your chances of winning). The winner will receive a plaque and travel reimbursement up to $400 to attend the 2018 Family Section reception at the ASA meetings.

The Family Section Council will consider this proposal next month in Montreal. Please let us know what you think!

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Update on SocArXiv and social science without walls

social science without walls

Meanwhile, over at SocArXiv, we’re working on revolutionizing the research process and how we communicate about it in the social sciences. You can follow the exploits of the SocArXiv project on our blog SocOpen. There you can read, most recently:

That’s the update!

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Advice for and about ASA

Last summer the incoming American Sociological Association President, Michèle Lamont, asked me to offer some advice to ASA about open access publishing issues. It was an open-ended request, and I didn’t know how to go about it. My understanding of ASA is that it is not well outfitted as a change agent; it’s much more likely to respond to external developments in its ecosystem than to take the lead, especially when its revenue stream is at stake. Nevertheless, lots of good people work in and around the association, and it has great capacity. (I am involved myself, as co-editor of the ASA magazine Contexts, as chair-elect of the Family Section, and as secretary treasurer of the Population Section.) So I wrote a short essay on what ASA might do, or what its members might do or demand of it.

It’s not coincidental that this is posted on the SocArXiv blog, SocOpen, which is part of that changing external environment that I hope will lead to ASA adapting for the better. I believe that devoting my energy to this project is producing something tangible for research and scholarly communication, while also pressuring ASA (and maybe other associations) to move in the right direction.

I hope you’ll read it on SocOpen.

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Do we get tenure for this?

My photo. For the occasion I titled it, Openness. https://flic.kr/p/FShb6d

For the occasion I titled this photo of Utah “Openness.”

Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed has written up the American Sociological Association’s committee report, “What Counts? Evaluating Public Communication in Tenure and Promotion.”

I was once a member of the ASA Subcommittee on the Evaluation Of Social Media and Public Communication In Sociology, which was chaired by Leslie McCall when they produced the report. (It is a subcommittee of the task force on engaging sociology, convened by then-President Annette Lareau.)

It’s worth reading the whole article, which also includes comments from Sara Ovink, McCall and me, in addition to the report. Having thought about this issue a little, I was happy to respond to Flaherty’s request for comment. These are the full comments I sent her, from which she quoted in the article:

1. We don’t need credit toward promotion for every thing we do. Scholars who take a public-facing stance in their work often find that it enhances the quality and quantity of their work in the traditional fields of assessment (research, teaching, service), so that separately rewarding the public work is not always necessary. I don’t need credit for having a popular blog – that work has led to new research ideas, better feedback on my research, better grad students, teaching ideas, invitations to contribute to policy, and book contracts.

2. We’d all love to be promoted for authoring a great tweet but no one wants to be fired for a bad one. Assessment of public engagement needs to be holistic and qualitative, taking into the account quality, quantity, and impact of the work. Simplistic quantitative metrics will not be useful.

3. It is also important to value and reward openness in our routine work, such as posting working papers, publishing in open access journals, sharing replication files, and disseminating open teaching materials. Public engagement does not need to mean separate activities and products, but can mean taking a public-facing stance in our existing work.

The SocArxiv project is one outcome of these conversations (links to latest infosubmit a paper), especially relating to point #3 above. Academics who open up their work should be recognized for that contribution to the public good and for promoting the future of academia. In that spirit also I proposed a rule change for the ASA Dissertation Award, which now includes this:

To be eligible for the ASA Dissertation Award, candidates’ dissertations must be publicly available in Dissertation Abstracts International or a comparable outlet. Dissertations that are not available in this fashion will not be considered for the award.

It’s hard to change everything, but it’s not that hard to make some important changes in the right direction. Rewarding engagement and openness is an important step in the right direction.

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