Where SocArXiv is now

A good time to sum up our progress.

We just completed our first O3S conference, and we’re wrapping up our first year of support from the Sloan and Open Societies foundations. So it’s a good time to sum up our progress.

O3S17 networking break
O3S networking break / photo PNC

Open Scholarship for the Social Sciences

More even than we had hoped, the O3S conference turned into a great mechanism for fundraising, outreach, and generating innovating ideas. We had about 20 presenters (many of them junior scholars, whose travel we paid for), and almost 50 registrants. Participants came from as far as Chile, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Toronto, and from the Washington area. They included sociologists, librarians, economists and other scholars, software developers, publishers, and open access advocates. UMD campus leaders and the library were very supportive, and we are optimistic about their continued support for an annual conference. The panels were all high quality, the audience was engaged, the keynotes were riveting, and the workshop was highly productive. In addition to the panels and registrants, a great group of graduate students volunteered to support the conference. (We’ll have more on the workshop and new ideas later.)

SocArXiv service

We have almost 1600 papers on SocArXiv, and October has been our biggest month yet (135 papers). We are small compared with the big disciplinary paper services, but growing more each month, with a widening community of users. Our high visibility launch last fall led to a burst of activity, and now 15 other community preprint services have followed us on the OSF Preprints server. This includes some key players, such as LawArXiv (which we were instrumental in bringing to the OSF system), PsyArXiv (which has developed a relationship with the American Psychological Association), the LIS Scholarship Archive for library science (which is making important connections to libraries), and others. We wouldn’t want to take all the credit for this healthy proliferation, but we should take some. (As an aside, I also note with some pride that nearly all the subsequent communities on OSF Preprints include librarians on their Steering Committees.)


We are about to start using the OSF’s expanded moderation system, allowing us and the other communities to have a customized paper moderation workflow. This has already turned into a great way for us to recruit volunteers, and generated lively discussion about moderation principles and related governance questions.

At the American Sociological Association meetings this summer, we launched the Sociology Open Award Recognition program, which encourages sections of the ASA to run use SocArXiv for paper award nominations. This led to discussion with more than 10 sections representing thousands of sociologists, several of which adopted variations on our program, with others still considering proposals.


We were able to leverage our foundation grants to help motivate others to contribute to SocArXiv. This includes two gifts of $10,000 from libraries (MIT and UCLA), and about $25,000 from the Sociology Department, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Libraries at the University of Maryland, for our conference (including in-kind contributions). We have also opened up a very promising dialogue with the Red OA group at ARL (which seeks upstream initiatives to strengthen open publishing), which may lead to additional support from libraries, and there are some other leads.

Peer review

Partly motivated by the Red OA initiative, our next project addresses the question of peer review. The Center for Open Science is working to integrate peer review capacity on the OSF Preprints platform (through partnerships and/or their own technology). While that proceeds, we want to figure out what our research community wants and needs most from an open peer review platform. Should we run our own “journals,” work with existing journals, create an open platform for overlay journals, or some other alternative? We have initiated conversations about convening researchers to address these questions, to include also research into peer review processes, which might entail surveys, focus groups, or experimental research. In this effort we are fortunate to have the leadership of Elizabeth Popp Berman, a sociologist on our steering committee who specializes in the sociology of knowledge, and science and technology studies. (Here is a recent essay I wrote on open peer review.)

Needs for the coming year

The peer review project will need funding in the coming year, for convening meetings and conducting research. Our other fundraising goals center on personnel and outreach. We’d like support for our research efforts, my time, and graduate assistants to handle paper moderation and research for the peer review project. And then we will need money for outreach (travel, marketing, materials), and the next O3S conference (especially travel for junior scholars). We are also in discussions with the Center for Open Science on a sustainability model for all the preprint services they host; while their service to us is free, we would like to develop a long-term plan by which the communities work together to secure the future of the system. This is an ongoing conversation.


The next stage of SocArXiv’s development: bringing greater transparency and efficiency to the peer review process

SocArXiv’s Philip Cohen has published an essay about the future of peer review on the LSE Impact blog. Here is the intro:

Almost 1,500 papers have been uploaded to SocArXiv since its launch last year. Up to now the platform has operated alongside the peer-review journal system rather than seriously disrupting it. Looking ahead to the next stage of its development, Philip Cohen considers how SocArXiv might challenge the peer review system to be more efficient and transparent, firstly by confronting the bias that leads many who benefit from the status quo to characterise mooted alternatives as extreme. The value and implications of openness at the various decision points in the system must be debated, as should potentially more disruptive innovations such as non-exclusive review and publication or crowdsourcing reviews.

Read the whole essay here.