Thousands of sociologists are writing papers right now. As the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association approaches (August 20-23, Seattle) In the next month, many of them will perform an archaic ritual. They will send their paper to the discussant for their upcoming panel. The discussant will have the right to read and discuss any aspect of the paper at the conference — but not to share it with the public or other scholars.
Then, at the conference, the author will spend 15 or 20 minutes presenting some parts of the paper, and the discussant will verbally comment on it before an audience of 0 to 100 people, including at least a few people (the other panelists) with a demonstrated interest in the topic. Afterward, those who are interested may approach the author and ask for a copy of the paper.
The presentation is open to anyone — who happens to be physically in the room — and the paper is now “out there,” but in just about the least accessible form possible: a verbal presentation, with slides. This can all lead to good conversations and exchanges of information and insights. This conference presentation goes on everyone’s CV. The whole thing is “public” in the way that public was defined 100 years ago.
Of course, technology has changed this. People send the papers electronically now. Some share them with friends and colleagues. Some papers are already under review at peer-reviewed journals. And some are posted on personal websites or in institutional repositories. But the vast majority are not available outside the room of the conference.
Technology — and social organization — now allow us to improve on this process dramatically. That paper can be posted on an open-access paper server and shared much more widely (see instructions for SocArXiv here). Other panelists and colleagues who are attending the conference can read the paper before the session, maybe commenting, or deciding to attend the session and be part of the conversation. Other researchers can learn from the work and respond, too. Members of the actual public can see what’s going on and respond. In short, the research can come out of its shell.
ASA2016: Tag, share, build community
When you submit your paper at SocArXiv.org, you get a permanent URL. If you put this on your slides and handouts at the conference, interested readers get to your work immediately. Further, when you tag your paper with the ASA2016 tag (very simple instructions here), anyone can browse over and read it. Tag with your session number (tell your fellow panelists!) or a tag for your department, working group, or Twitter hashtag. Build your community, widen the circle, promote inclusivity, make your work matter more.
Here are some common concerns about posting conference papers, with responses:
What if the paper isn’t ready, or is wrong?
It is understood that these are usually not “final” versions of the paper. In fact, the conference rules require it, forbidding papers that have been “published prior to the meeting or accepted for publication before being submitted to organizers for consideration.” But you are already presenting it to the people who are most likely to see and care about its flaws: other researchers at the conference. Widening the circle may be worrying or intimidating, but that’s part of what you’re trying to do. We believe the benefits (to the researcher and public) outweigh the risks. Of course, if you have errors in the paper you want to find that out as soon as possible and get it right. Being wrong now is part of the normal workflow — being wrong later can be a major problem.
What if someone steals my ideas?
The program at the conference is good for stamping your work as your own. It’s a recognized form of notification for the academic community. But it doesn’t actually include the content of the paper. Posting the paper on a public server, time-stamped for all to see, is even better protection, especially for junior scholars. Of course, bad people can do bad things, but they probably are already. And with a public, citable version, at least you have the norms of the profession on your side if any dispute arises. As our Center for Open Science partner Jeff Spies pointed out, finding a like-minded scholar early in the process gets you a collaborator — finding them later gets you a competitor.
What if posting my paper discourages a journal from publishing it?
No respectable journal prohibits publishing papers that have been shared in working-paper form (and the ASA rule cited above doesn’t prohibit sharing in this form). The conference presentation is already public, it’s just public in a much less open and inclusive way. When you subsequently publish the paper, you can update the version on SocArXiv, and provide a link to the journal version. The link you receive with your submission is permanent and will always take people to the current version of the paper. (For specific journal policies, check out the RoMEO database.) And of course you can remove it from the archive if you choose.
Open is your friend
We have already written some more about why posting your paper to SocArXiv is a good idea, for you and your research, and the wider community. By using what (to the user) is pretty simply technology, we can make our work better, faster, and more engaging. We hope you will try it out.
At the conference, display the Where’s Your Paper? SocArXiv button to let people know you posted yours (or support those who did). And come to the 13th Annual ASA Blog Get-Together & SocArXiv Party: Sunday, Aug 21 from 4pm-7pm, at The Pine Box Bar (1600 Melrose Ave, Seattle).
The conversation gets better when someone says, “Where’s your paper?” and the answer is: “Here.”
The server is open now in a temporary, preliminary form. We want to hear from as many people as possible about what they need from an open archive. And we need people to get involved as moderators, reviewers, and volunteers to build the organization.