Category Archives: PressForward

Catching the Good

[Another post in my series on our need to focus more on the “demand side” of scholarly communication—how and why scholars engage with and contribute to publications—in addition to new models for the “supply side”—new production models for publications themselves. If you’re new to this line of thought on my blog, you may wish to start here or here.]

As all parents discover when their children reach the “terrible twos” (a phase that evidently lasts until 18 years of age), it’s incredibly easy to catch your kids being bad, and to criticize them. Kids are constantly pushing boundaries and getting into trouble; it’s part of growing up, intellectually and emotionally. What’s harder for parents, but perhaps far more important, is “catching your child doing good,” to look over when your kid isn’t yelling or pulling the dog’s ear to say, “I like the way you’re doing that.”

Although I fear infantilizing scholars (wags would say that’s perfectly appropriate), whenever I talk about the publishing model at PressForward, I find myself referring back to this principle of “catching the good,” which of course goes by the fancier name of “positive reinforcement” in psychology. What appears in PressForward publications such as Digital Humanities Now isn’t submitted and threatened with criticism and rejection (negative reinforcement). Indeed, there is no submission process at all. Instead, we look to “catch the good” in whatever format, and wherever, it exists (positive reinforcement). Catching the good is not necessarily the final judgment upon a work, but an assessment that something is already quite worthy and might benefit from a wider audience.

It’s a useful exercise to consider the very different psychological modes of positive and negative reinforcement as they relate to scholarly (and non-scholarly) communication, and the kind of behavior these models encourage or suppress. Obviously PressForward has no monopoly on positive reinforcement; catching the good also happens when a sharp editor from a university press hears about a promising young scholar and cultivates her work for publication. And positive reinforcement is deeply imbedded in the open web, where a blog post can either be ignored or reach thousands as a link is propagated by impressed readers.

In modes where negative reinforcement predominates, such as at journals with high rejection rates, scholars are much more hesitant to distribute their work until it is perfect or near-perfect. An aversion to criticism spreads, with both constructive and destructive effects. Authors work harder on publications, but also spend significant energy to tailor their work to please the paren, er, editors and blind reviewers who wait in judgment. Authors internalize the preferences of the academic community they strive to join, and curb experimentation or the desire to reach interdisciplinary or general audiences.

Positive-reinforcement models, especially those that involve open access to content, allow for greater experimentation of form and content. Interdisciplinary and general audiences are more likely to be reached, since a work can be highlighted or linked to by multiple venues at the same time. Authors feel at greater liberty to disseminate more of their work, including material that is half-baked and work that is polished, but audiences may find even the half-baked to be helpful to their thought processes. In other publications that “partial” work might not ever see the light of day.

Finally, just as a kid who constantly strives to be a great baseball player might be unexpectedly told he has a great voice and should try out for the choir, positive reinforcement is more likely to push authors to contribute to fields in which they naturally excel. Positive reinforcement casts a wider net, doing a better job at catching scholars in all stations, or even outsiders, who might have ideas or approaches a discipline could use.

When mulling new outlets for their work, scholars implicitly model risk and reward, imagining the positive and negative reinforcement they will be subjected to. It would be worth talking about this psychology more explicitly. For instance, what if there were a low-risk, but potentially high-reward, outlet that focused more on positive reinforcement—published articles getting noticed and passed around based on merit after a relatively restricted phase of pre-publication criticism? If you want to know why PLoS ONE is the fastest-growing venue for scientific work, that’s the question they asked and successfully answered. And that’s what we’re trying to do with PressForward as well.

[My thanks to Joan Fragazsy Troyano and Mike O’Malley for reading an early version of this post.]

Panel on the Future of Digital Publishing [Video]

I really enjoyed the 2011 HASTAC conference at the University of Michigan last weekend. Many interesting talks and project presentations, and less formal (but no less interesting) conversations in the hallways.

I particularly enjoyed the panel I was on with Tara McPherson and Richard Nash on “The Future of Digital Publishing.” Video of that panel is now available:

I expand upon several points I’ve been making in this space and elsewhere, such as PressForward‘s pyramidal scheme of assessment, the notion that scholarship can come in many forms and should shape journals rather than vice versa, the hidden cost of perfection, and the affordances of digital publishing.

Digital Humanities Now 2.0: Bigger and Better, with a New Review Process

After five months of retooling, we’re relaunching Digital Humanities Now today. As part of this relaunch it has been moved into the PressForward family of publications, as one of that project’s new models of how high-quality work can emerge from, and reach, scholarly communities.

The first iteration of DH Now, which we launched two years ago, relied almost entirely on an automated process to find what digital humanities scholars were talking about and linking to (namely, on Twitter). About a year ago, in an attempt to make the signal-to-noise ratio a bit better, I took my slightly tongue-in-cheek “Editor-in-Chief” role more seriously, vetting each potential item for inclusion and adding better titles and “abstracts.”

Today we take a much larger step forward, in an attempt to find and highlight the best work in digital humanities, and curate it in such a way as to be maximally useful to the scholarly community. The DH Now team, including Joan Fragaszy Troyano, Sasha Boni, and Jeri Wieringa, have corralled a large array of digital humanities content into the base for the publication. Building on a Digital Humanities Registry I set up in the summer, they have located and are now tracking the content streams of hundreds of scholars and institutions (what we’re calling the Compendium of Digital Humanities), from which we can select items for highlighting in the “news” and “Editors’ Choice” columns on the site. As before, social media (including Twitter) and other means for assessing the resonance of scholarly works will serve a role, but not an exclusive one, as we seek out new and important work wherever that work may be found.

The foundation of the editorial model, as I explained in this space on the launch of PressForward, is that instead of a traditional process of submission to a journal that leads to a binary acceptance/rejection decision many months later (and publication many more months or years later), we can begin to think of scholarly communication as a process that begins with open publication on the web and that leads to successive layers of review. Contrary to the concerns of critics, this is far from a stream of unvetted work.

Imagine a pyramid of scholarship. At the bottom is a broad base of scholarship on the open web (which understandably worries many scholars who object to new models of scholarly communication that do not rely on the decisive eye of a paid editor and the scarcity of journal pages). From that base, however, a minority of scholarly works seem worthy of additional attention, and after word of mouth and dissemination of those potentially important pieces, more scholars weigh in, making a work rise or fall. As we move up the pyramid—to more exclusive forms of “publication,” fewer and fewer works survive. Far from lacking peer review, the model we are proposing involves significant winnowing as a scholarly work passes through various levels of review.

For the new DH Now, these levels of publication are transparent on the site, and can be subscribed to individually depending on how unfiltered or filtered scholars would like their stream to be:

• Most people will likely want to subscribe to the main DHNow feed, which will include the Editors’ Choice articles as well as important news items such as jobs, resources, and conferences.

• Those who want full access to the wide base of the scholarly pyramid (or who don’t trust the editorial board’s decisions) can subscribe to the unfiltered Compendium of Digital Humanities, which includes feeds from hundreds of scholars.

• For those who felt that the original DH Now worked well for them, we have maintained a “top tweeted stories” feed.

• Finally, a major new addition is the launch of a quarterly review of the best of the best—the top of the pyramid of review, which will likely contain less than 1% of works that begin at the base. We will notify scholars about potential inclusion, and pass along comments and suggestions for improvement before publication. We hope and expect that inclusion in this journal form of DH Now will be worthy of inclusion on CVs, in promotion and tenure decisions, and other areas helpful to digital humanities scholars. DH Now will have an ISSN, an editorial board, and all of the other signifiers of quality and peer review that individuals and institutions expect.

You can read more about our process on DH Now‘s “How This Works” page.

We believe this new format has several critical benefits. First, it democratizes scholarly communication in a helpful way. Over the last two years, for instance, DH Now has highlighted up-and-coming work by promising graduate students simply because they chose to post their ideas to a new blog or institutional website. Second, it democratizes the editorial process while still taking into account the scarcity of attention and without sacrificing quality. Although we have a managing group of editors here at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, we are accounting for the views and criticisms of a much broader circle of scholars to make decisions about inclusion and exclusion, and those decisions themselves can be reviewed. Third, DH Now broadens the definition of what scholarship is, by highlighting forms beyond the traditional article. Finally, it encourages open access publishing, which we think has an ethical benefit as well as a reputational benefit to the scholars who post their work online.

Introducing PressForward

For some time here at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media we have been thinking about the state of scholarly publishing, and its increasing disconnect with how we have come to communicate online. Among our concerns:

• A variety of scholarly work is flourishing online, ranging from long-form writing on blogs, to “gray literature” such as conference papers, to well-curated corpora or data sets, to entirely novel formats enabled by the web

• This scholarship is decentralized, thriving on personal and institutional sites, as well as the open web, but could use some way to receive attention from scholarly communities so works can receive credit and influence others

• The existing scholarly publishing infrastructure has been slow-moving in accounting for this growing and multifaceted realm of online scholarship

• Too much academic publishing remains inert—publication-as-broadcast rather than taking advantage of the web’s peer-to-peer interactivity

• Too much scholarship remains gated when it could be open

Legacy formats like the journal of course have considerable merit, and they are rightly valued: they act as critical, if sometimes imperfect, arbiters of the good and important. At the same time, the web has found ways to filter the abundance of online work, ranging from the tech world (Techmeme) to long-form posts (The Browser), which act as screening agents for those interested in an area of thought or practice.

What if we could combine the best of the scholarly review process with the best of open-web filters? What if we had a scholarly communication system that was digital first?

Today we’re announcing a new initiative to do just that: PressForward, generously supported by a $862,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation‘s Digital Information Technology program.

PressForward will bring together the best scholarship from across the web, producing vital, open publications scholarly communities can gather around. PressForward will:

Develop effective methods for collecting, screening, and drawing attention to the best online scholarship, including scholarly blogs, digital projects, and other web genres that don’t fit into traditional articles or books, as well as conference papers, white papers, and reports

Encourage the proliferation of open access scholarship through active new forms of publication, concentrating the attention of scholarly communities around high-quality, digital-first scholarship

Create a new platform that will make it simple for any organization or community of scholars to launch similar publications and give guidance to institutions, scholarly societies, and academic publishers who wish to supplement their current journals with online outlets

We hope you’ll join us making this new form of scholarly communication a reality. You may be a researcher in a field that is underserved by traditional outlets, because it is new, interdisciplinary, or involves non-textual media. Perhaps you have a digital project that can only be “published” if you describe it in an article. You may be an editor of a journal who would like to supplement standard articles with digital content from across the web, or a scholarly society that wants to find and feature online work. As PressForward evolves, we hope to serve all of these constituencies, as well as a broad audience currently locked out of gated scholarship.

Learn more about PressForward on our new site, or by sending us an email. You can also follow us on Twitter or via RSS.