Create Change

Shouldn't the way we share research be as advanced as the Internet?

Cases in Point

New kinds of scholarly works

New forms of scholarship are emerging from the possibilities of the digital networked environment. Here are a few examples:

Electronic books can be more than just digital conversions of printed volumes:

  • The open-access Arabidopsis Book, available only in electronic form, is a dynamic information resource that will evolve with the state of knowledge. Each invited chapter reviews an important and interesting aspect of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, with reference to what is known in other plants and in other kingdoms. Chapters can be kept up-to-date either by the original authors or by other scientists, who can add an addendum to incorporating new results in a timely manner or alert readers to contentious issues.

  • Gutenberg-e, a collaboration of the American Historical Association and Columbia University Press, offers digital monographs that can either be printed out and read in the traditional way or, in the electronic versions, offer elements that cannot be conveyed in print: extensive documentation, hyperlinks to supplementary literature, images, music, video, and links to related web sites.

Virtual communities of scholars with shared interests are emerging on a regular basis, made practical by the simple and ubiquitous e-mail list:

  • The nanoHUB is a rich, Web-based resource for research, education and collaboration in nanotechnology, offering simulation tools, workspaces for collaboration, podcasts, an assortment of teaching materials, and much more.

  • H-Net is an international consortium that coordinates over 100 free e-mail lists in the social sciences and humanities. Each list is edited by a team of scholars, and has a board of editors that controls the flow of messages, commissions reviews, and rejects unsuitable items. H-Net enables scholars to easily communicate current research and teaching interests; to discuss new approaches, methods and tools of analysis; to share information on electronic databases; and to test new ideas and share comments on the literature in their fields

Thematic research collections are a new category of scholarly work emerging in the humanities:

  • Valley of the Shadow is a digital archive of primary sources detailing the lives of two American families in the era of the Civil War. “It is more like a library than a single book. There is no ‘one’ story in the Valley Project.” Instead, users can access thousands of letters and diaries, census and government records, newspapers and speeches, all of which record diverse aspects of daily life. Besides accomplishing different purposes than a monograph, it offers exciting new ways for students to engage in research.

  • The Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative brings together mapping technology with digital data on historical and archaeological resources, enabling users to create digital maps that display a wide range of cultural material and use place and time as a common element.

Weblogs (or blogs) and wikis are fast becoming commonplace on the web, and many explore scholarly topics. According to Nature, these can be useful “both before publication, when generating ideas, and after publication, when discussing results.” There are many examples, including:

  • Blog.Bioethics.Net is a companion to the American Journal of Bioethics.

  • The RealClimate blog provides commentary by climate scientists aimed at the public and journalists to provide a quick response to developing stories and context that is sometimes missing in mainstream coverage.

  • Law professors Lawrence Lessig and Michael Carroll explore intellectual property issues with their blogs.

  • OpenWetWare is a wiki for sharing of biological engineering protocols.

  • The development of open access to scholarship is being tracked by philosopher Peter Suber’s Open Access News blog. The library at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign keeps in touch with its campus community via its Issues in Scholarly Communication blog.

E-journals reach beyond the simple translation of a print journal to electronic form:

  • Vectors is a multimedia, open-access journal focused on how technology shapes social relations. It comprises moving and still images; voice, music, and sound; computational and interactive structures; social software; and more. It explores a “fusion of old and new media in order to foster ways of knowing and seeing that expand the rigid text-based paradigms of traditional scholarship” and “emerging scholarly vernaculars.”

Encyclopedias are hardly new, but today scholars are developing and maintaining a new generation of dynamic, web-based resources that are readily updated and openly available. Wikipedia — “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” — is a popular success, but there also examples that apply rigorous peer review:

  • Each entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is maintained and kept up to date by an expert or group of experts in the field. All entries and updates are refereed by the members of a distinguished Editorial Board before being made public.