March 20, 2013
“I don’t do real research; I just make blogs” – an interview with Elizabeth Barron
By Hannah Stokes
Elizabeth Barron is a Lecturer of French at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. She has interests in the Eighteenth Century, narrative styles and their similarity to political processes, and human rights. However, during her professional career, Elizabeth has never formally published anything. “I don’t do real research; I just make blogs.” (One of them, and the one that includes some of the ideas expressed in this interview, can be found HERE). In spite of this, Elizabeth has recently become aware of and taken a great interest in Open Access Publishing and has kindly offered to share her views with us here at Open Science.
Hannah Stokes: Have you ever published in the Open Access model?
Elizabeth Barron: I feel I must start by somewhat apologetically stating that I have never published anything, either in traditional journals or in Open Access format. So I’m afraid my views are entirely theoretical and not at all practical. They are of course only my own personal views, but I’m happy to share them.
HS: What is the normal procedure for publishing your work?
EB: The normal procedure in my field is to publish articles in peer-reviewed journals which typically require one to join a professional organization, paying modest membership fees out of one’s own pocket. I was a member of a few such organizations quite early in my career but am not at present. These are quite respectable organizations publishing good academic work, but I do worry sometimes that academic publishing can veer a bit towards the insular and self-referential. It is precisely because of the high value that I place on academic work that I see this as a problem. There seems to be a disconnection between the anti-intellectual climate that I sense in the U.S. as a whole and the many very smart people with PhDs whose ideas are perhaps not made to be as relevant as they should be. In my dissertation, one of the ideas I explore is the notion of reader response, which I argue invites the question “If a book is written and sits on a shelf, does it make a sound?” I might respectfully ask the same question of some academic publishing.
HS: Going forward, would you ever consider publishing in the Open Access model?
EB: I would indeed consider the Open Access model of publishing. I believe it is one means of addressing the concern I expressed about the availability of information. I’m inclined to be in favor of open source scholarship, as I generally think that information should be freely available to everyone. Denying people information can be used as a means to control them. People who don’t have the necessary information to make decisions have to rely on someone else’s judgment. Taken to the extreme, this describes better the position of a slave than that of a free human being. This is part of why I insist on both the importance of the right to strike and yet equally the importance of not abusing that right. A person who is not a slave always maintains the right to say no. This is simply one of the marks of a free human being. Going on strike, though, needs to be utilised when we really and truly need a break to replenish our humanity or when a task seems a bit pointless. Pointless busywork can be used as a way to detract from more important questions and issues, such as what is actually going on with the people around us. So, if we accept that information should be freely available in a democratic system, then that would suggest that we ought to be in favor of open source scholarship.
HS: Do you think that Open Access will supersede the traditional model or will they be coexisting?
EB: This may be an indirect way of addressing this question, but I am choosing to quote my dissertation here (speaking of being insular and self-referential, egads.) “We are readers and writers engaged actively in interpreting exchanges of signs in order to create coherence. We may elect to accept what we are told through many different media, but this need not be acceptance without reflection and consideration. Whether the format be beautiful leather-bound volumes or the blazingly-fast screens of the Internet, the task remains the same. The process of reading must be understood.”
HS: In your opinion, why are researchers still reluctant to the Open Access Publishing process?
EB: It could be partly just hidebound habits and familiarity with the existing journals and publishing venues. But it could also be a thoughtful and sincere concern for quality control. The relationship between Open Access Publishing and traditional peer-reviewed academic journals can be broadened to the relationship between the Internet in a general sense and, for example, books in libraries. I like to use a spaghetti/wall analogy here. The Internet is like spaghetti, in that it allows space for throwing out new ideas and hearing various voices, but it is only if these spaghetti ideas’ time has come that they will really stick to the walls. Published books are more like the walls. I’ve talked about this a little on my blog with respect to teaching: “I am fond of provoking and challenging my students in ways that are a little outside the structure of the course syllabus and the final grade. I like to throw spaghetti ideas at them, allow them to test their own reactions, and see what sticks. Sometimes creating a little controversy can be the most effective provocation, as growth requires being pushed against one’s comfort zone and even outside it. Challenge assumptions. If something strikes a nerve, go do some research and read up on it. Start with the Internet, sure, but go by the library and check out books as well. A little spaghetti. And then some walls.”
HS: How does the USA’s approach to Open Access differ to the UK’s? In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of these two different approaches?
EB: I don’t honestly know much about the USA’s approach to Open Access, other than having a general understanding that it is the UK that is leading the way in this domain. Thanks to this interview, I am now curious to find out more.
HS: Could you please share some tips with our readers who would also like to publish their book/article in Open Access format?
EB: As a non-published person who has blogged a little bit, I would close by drawing a distinction between what is sometimes criticized as vanity-publishing and what could be considered self-publishing, such as blogging. I think the difference comes down to whether the writer is ego-driven or career-oriented and writing simply to see his or her name in print or whether the writer has some thoughts that s/he believes to be worth expressing and sharing with other people. I leave the judegment on the worth of any words I have written here up to their reader or readers.