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The Sea Change in Scholarly Communication

As seminal as science and medicine have been to the advancement of digital publishing, the benefits of their efforts are largely confined to publishing in their disciplines. This makes sense when you consider that their approach to digital publishing has been process oriented. They are savvy technologists who collaborate on research that is well funded. The early incarnations of the Internet, for which their communities were primarily responsible, naturally fed into their behaviors.

That humanities and social science researchers were not a part of the vanguard is no surprise. Their work is driven by argument and interpretation, not empirical evidence. They tend to be more tribal and solitary in their research and operate within a field, rather than focus on a discipline. Above all, their research is, at best, sparsely funded, making initial outlays for technological infrastructures nearly impossible.

But an interesting thing is happening on the Internet: it's fundamental model is becoming more social and friendlier to the creator/consumer. It's also becoming cheaper and less dependent on a specific platform. And as I've discussed before, serious researchers—many of them humanities and social science specialists—are adopting the same information consumption behaviors on the Internet the rest of us are.

One key behavior change is that fewer of them are going directly to the library to conduct research, choosing instead to search and download from their homes and offices. The true change will come when they realize they can access information between the office and home—and get recommendations on new research from far-flung but like-minded academics. Then humanities and social science scholars will insist less on the bound volume and become eager participants in digital publishing.

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