Gideon Burton Proposes “Open Scholarship”

“A typical scholar is very exclusive, available only to students in specific academic programs or through toll-access scholarly publications that are essentially unavailable to all but the most privileged. In the digital age, the traditional barriers to accessing scholars or scholarship are unnecessary, but persist for institutional reasons.” Gideon Burton’s observations about scholars are very similar to those expressed in the little book by Peter Suber about Open Access. The essential takeaways are that scholars have a duty to the general public; scholars should be openly sharing their in-progress studies and research because it would be of a greater benefit than working privately, hoping to keep their information unseen until it has reached it’s acme, and even then only revealing it to those who can afford to buy and read it. Burton comments on the current process of scholarship, “Think of the many publicly funded institutions of higher education, then think of the way those colleges and universities only reward their scholars if they are willing to conceal their expertise from the broader public that funded the institutions they work at. It’s as unethical as it is unnecessary, but it will continue until institutions learn to be more publicly responsible with their intellectual resources, or until scholars reject the restrictive identity they are held to through the traditional reward system.” While Burton’s article about open scholarship reflects what Suber discusses in his book, Burton makes efforts to expand upon his definition of what it means to truly be an open scholar. He says, “Scholars should be public intellectuals, responsive to multiple audiences, engaged in meaningful interchange across disciplines and boundaries of all kinds. And their knowledge products can and should extend well beyond the scholarly article, the monograph, or traditional measures of teaching.” Scholars who share their discoveries openly and without any qualms are desperately needed across a wide variety of disciplines. This means that a scholar should share openly both his completed works and also his works in progress. Burton notes that the open scholar should be open to critical feedback by sharing work that has yet to be completed. He discusses the need for scholars to be receptive to feedback, noting that “the Open Scholar is someone who makes their intellectual projects and processes digitally visible and who invites and encourages ongoing criticism of their work and secondary uses of any or all parts of it–at any stage of its development.” The benefits to this kind of scholarship are countless. Most drawbacks include financial interests or ego-driven interests involving waiting to share a work for fear of being judged or ridiculed. Burton responds to these fears, observing, “There is great value in others being allowed to see this whole context of inquiry, not just the final outcome for the specific study at hand.” So, Burton’s open scholar is one who is not only open to critical feedback, but one that is ready and willing to take the feedback and utilize the critique to his advantage. “The Open Scholar is also open in the sense that he or she is reachable and responsive–open to input from those outside of the project, the institution, or even academia.” Burton ends his article with many questions, both to scholars considering becoming “open” and to students. He wants to know what benefits we see. “If you are not an academic, does Open Scholarship sound like it would be a greater benefit for the advancement of knowledge or the improvement of teaching?” To answer his question, yes. Open Scholarship would undoubtedly advance knowledge and improvement, not only of teaching but of most other subject matters in the world. To those who are natural-born researchers, Open Scholarship is a dream, come true. Imagine scholars, scientists, and self-made achievers working together to promote a more advanced society. Imagine that.

© 2017 Shawna Marie Rodgers
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