SocArXiv Promotes Open Sociology

A new paper server for the social sciences, SocArXiv (pronounced sosh-archive), launched in December, with the goal of promoting rapid sharing of academic research. The non-profit system promises researchers a free, open access platform for distributing their work. But is sociology ready?

A lot of sociologists have complaints about our journal publishing system. They think it takes too long, with reviews often dragging on for months or even years before papers are published. The results of that review process often seem arbitrary, with the whim of a single reviewer or editor determining the outcome rather than a broader assessment of the quality of the work or its impact. And the final result is usually gated behind a paywall that limits access to other academics (and those with flush library budgets in particular).

In response, some sociologists have created new journals—such as the independent Sociological Science, or the American Sociological Association’s Socius—that promise quick turnaround decisions, fewer revision loops, and open access to all readers in return for page charges for the authors’ institutions.

One avenue that sociology has not yet actively explored, however, is the robust distribution of preprints or working papers. For several decades, math and physics papers have been distributed in pre-publication form on the giant, open-access arXiv.org paper server—which now annually serves 100 million free copies of more than 1.2 million papers. In economics, the most prestigious and influential papers are often distributed in early form by the National Bureau of Economic Research. But sociologists mostly don’t share their work openly before (or even after) it’s published in a journal (books are a whole different story). For example, most papers at our annual conferences are not made available for general readers, a practice increasingly common in other disciplines.

In a statement published on the SocArXiv blog, SocOpen.org, sociologist Katherine Newman, provost at UMass Amherst, called the initiative “an exciting opportunity to democratize access to the best of social science research.” She added, “This will assist the nation’s academics in making clear to the public why their work matters beyond the ivy walls.”

SocArXiv is a collaboration between a group of sociologists and librarians, working with the Center for Open Science, with funding from foundations that promote open scholarship and an administrative home at the University of Maryland (where it is directed by Contexts co-editor Philip Cohen). They hope to make the archive a permanent piece of the research infrastructure, eventually hosting open-access journals with peer review and promoting a more open and transparent approach to sociological research.

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