"...we know the wolf is at the door, so to speak. If we don’t build our own digital research infrastructure, commercial providers will. Increasing commercial hold on scholarly infrastructure has advanced at an alarming rate in recent years, despite the buzz around open access publishing and open science. Indeed, major initiatives to extend open access scholarly publishing -- as in Plan S, in particular -- have been effectively captured. While more scholarships will be “openly accessible,” what counts as open is often delimited to those inside elite enclaves (German, or the University of California, for example). Elite access to publication venues has also been further consolidated (Knöchelmann 2020; Okune 2020; Okune 2019).
Somewhat counterintuitively, digitization (since the mid-1990s) has been in step with increasing consolidation of the scholarly publishing industry, with five companies (Reed-Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, and Taylor & Francis and Sage) accounting for more than 50% of published output by 2006 (up from 20% in 1970). Profit margins have been high, sometimes near 40% (RELX 2019), partly because the companies don’t pay for key inputs (the research itself and peer review). A study published in 2015 (based on a data set ending in 2013), showed that the social sciences had the highest level of concentration, with 70% of papers published by the top five publishers (Larivière et al. 2015; University of Montreal 2015). Increasingly, these large commercial publishers companies are pursuing vertical integration as a “rent-seeking” business strategy, “generating exclusionary effects upon researchers/institutions in the global south” (Posada and Chen 2018; 2017).
Even more sobering, in my view, is the capturing of the backend of scholarly communication, where research data is preserved, curated, accessed and used. Consider, for example, Elsevier’s 2013 acquisition of Mendeley, a digital platform where researchers can share references, papers, and commentary. Established in 2007 by and for researchers, Mendely had become an open access icon. Response to the Elsivier aquisition from some corners of the research community was harsh (Shaw 2013; London 2013; Dobson 2013). But Mendely has continued to extend its services. In 2016, for example, Mendeley Data was launched to allow researchers to share citabale data sets (Mendeley 2016), becoming, for example, one of a cluster of repositories promoted by the US National Institute of Health for sharing COVID-19 data (Goldman 2020). In 2016, Elsevier also acquired SSRN (Social Science Research Network), a repository for pre-prints (Elsevier 2016). In 2017, Elsievier acquired BePress, which includes DIgital Commons, a cloud-based institiontal repositty now used by hundreds of universities, research centers and public libraries (BePress nd). Esevier said that acquisition of BePress was “was part of a deliberate effort to shift the company from journal publishing into research and technology data management” (MacKenzie 2017). Librarian’s were particularly vocal in criticizing the BePress acquisition, noting that over the years (since BePress was established by academics as a non-profit in 2011), they had invested a great deal of time and money in helping develop it. One commentary explained that “[t]he move into institutional repositories means that Elsevier now offers services at almost every stage of the scholarly workflow -- from initial research to citation management, publication and deposit into a repository,” highlighting that academic researchers now have “An Elsevier-Enabled Workflow -- From Start to Finish” (McKenzie 2017).
These projects may not be overdetermined by commercial interests, but they are encoded with them. And that is a problem we need to acknowledge and assume responsibility for."
Our experiments with digitality follow historians of science in their findings about ways changing instrumentation in the sciences changes both what counts as science and scientific selves (Daston and Galison, for example).
From Experimental Ethnography Online: The Asthma Files
We pursue The Asthma Files aware of long-standing effort, often experimental in tenor, to integrate new technologies and media into the work and expression of cultural analysis. Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead’s stunning work with photography – as both a research tool and means of conveying their analysis – comes immediately to mind (Bateson and Mead 1942, Jacknis 1988). The history of filmmaking in the conduct and expression of cultural analysis has also laid important ground, generating impressive methodological debates and innovation, and a body of work that literally provides different angles on matters of interest and concern to cultural analysts.
Bateson, G. & Mead, M. (1942) Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis, New York, New York Academy of Sciences. Clifford, J. (1981) ‘On ethnographic surrealism’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 539–564.
Jacknis, I. (1988) ‘Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson on Bali: their use of photography and film’, Cultural Anthropology, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 160–177.