Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Open Source Scholarship

On Sansblogue, Tim Bulkeley reflects on the question of Open Source Scholarship, prompted by an interesting post in Deinde, Why is Open Source Scholarship So Threatening?. This is not something I have done a lot of thinking about, but Tim's inclination is roughly where I am on this:
On the whole my own inclination is to agree with the suggestion that scholars ought naturally to be inclined towards an open source model. However, one must then work out how to ensure that the activity remains scholarly. David Clines several years ago addressed some of these issues in his article "Publishers: Who Needs Them?".
I think the question that is asked in Deinde (see above) is probably not the right one. Open source scholarship is not so much "threatening" or "frightening" as it is worrying. The concerns that are expressed are concerns about quality. They think that many might ultimately make do with second-rate scholarship and that this will result in a depression of standards. It may be, however, that the concern is ill-founded. What is genuinely interesting about the open-source model, which is in any case borrowed from computer programming, is that it may have the potential to produce quality scholarship but by a different route. The process of getting to that quality product is different from what we are used to in peer-reviewed books and articles. But perhaps some of these projects will succeed in that communities of intelligent and well-informed contributors can hone the products until something of real value to the academic community is produced.

I wonder whether the concerns about quality can be addressed straightforwardly in given projects by the publication of the names of recognised consultants. This is something I have suggested before, for example in relation to the Open Scrolls Project. A consultative committee can not only provide guidance as the given project progresses, but also acts as a signal to others that the project should be taken seriously, so that it markets the potential quality of the product.

One interesting model here is the OpenText.org. Those who have attended the CARG sessions at the SBL Annual Meeting will have heard reports on this. They used to have a pretty useful web site with lots of examples of their project, appeals for help and so on. But at the moment it just has a holding page of a couple of "under construction" paragraphs. I hope that that doesn't show that open source scholarship like this is a struggle because it is a very interesting project.

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