DFG-project: Open Access to the communication system of science - Changing patterns of participation


1. Research Problem

The project focuses on the relation between the changing of the media that is associated with Open Access and the communication system of science. Objects of investigation are the scientific disciplines astrophysics and mathematics which have already adopted Open Access to a comparatively large extent. The project addresses the question of what kind of consequences the changing of the media has for the forms of participation in the communication system of science.

The conditions for scientists’ participation vary in different countries. Aside from many other factors, one has to the extent of material resources take into account. Therefore, an international comparison is carried out. The forms of participation of scientists who come from a country with a strong public funding (Germany) will be compared to those of scientists from a country with a developed system of disciplines but less resourceful funding (South Africa). The design of the study combines the analysis of publication activities of scientists during their career with qualitative interviews.

The study is rooted in the sociology of science as well as in the sociology of the media. Concerning the first field, the project contributes to the discussion about the internal capability of science for self-regulation and external influences from other social spheres. With the sociology of the media in mind, the project aims to contribute to the question of how the characteristics of the specific media influence the communication itself. In a more practical sense, the project’s goal is to provide reflective knowledge about the changing of the media for the actors who shape the development.


2. Methodical Design of the Study

The methodical design of this study consists of three steps.


Mapping of the change of the media towards Open Access

 In the first step, the media change that is associated with Open Access is analysed. Therefore, the most important Open Access media for so-called green road Open Access (self-archiving) and golden road Open Access (mainly freely accessible online journals) are identified. The characteristics of the media and changes of characteristics are collected in a database. These are, for example, the foundation or the disappearance of media, changes of the conditions of access, changes of the ownership, or changes of the editorship. Whenever possible, it is intended to conduct a comprehensive analysis in order to come to conclusions about the extent and relevance of the media change towards Open Access. Here, possible indicators are the rate of Open Access journals among the academic journals of a discipline and the development of self-archived papers in online-respositories. This total-view will be supplemented by exemplary analysis of typical or interesting forms of Open Access media.


Quantitative analysis of 'publication biographies'

The second methodical step focuses on the effects of the media change on the level of the individual scientist. It aims to analyse the effects of the media change on the patterns of participation in the communication system of science. ‘Publication biographies’ are understood as one’s contributions to the formal and public communication of a discipline over the period of an academic career. Publication biographies are the analytical sensor or instrument, which helps to analyse how the media change towards Open Access is displayed on an individual level.

In order to analyse the effects on a higher level – the communication system of the two disciplines in question – an aggregation is undertaken. On this level of analysis, the publication biographies of groups of scientists are compared. This analysis is carried out by a sample of 240 scientists that is comprised as follows: For both disciplines, 120 scientists are selected. For both samples, 60 of them participated in the communication system of the disciplines before the change towards Open Access, whereas 60 participated in the communication system for the first time during the media change. Half of the scientists come from Germany, whereas the other half comes from South Africa. The comparative conception of this analysis in three dimensions ((a) mathematics/astronomy and astrophysics (b) before/after the change of the media; (c) Germany/South Africa) results in a comparison of 2 x 2 x 2 subgroups.

The group is composed by a stacked random sampling strategy. The basic population on which the sample is based are scientists that meet the following criteria: First, they have to have two or more publications listed in the particular subject categories in the Thompson Web of Science during a specific reference period. Second, scientists of this sample are not allowed to have any publications listed in the web of science before the reference period. The reference period for the first group of scientists begins in 1983 and ends in 1992 the reference period for the second group begins in 1996 and ends in 2005.

Careful selection and minimisation of the rate of non-respondents are of high importance for studies with small samples. In order to motivate as many scientists of the sample as possible, a printed letter is sent to all members of the group. The letter informs about the aim of the study and invites to participate in it. In a second step, the addressed scientists are asked via e-mail to send me a publication list. If possible, the list should be complete. In addition, they are asked to fill out an online-form to provide some information about their academic career.


Guideline-based expert interviews

The analysis of ‘publication biographies’ allows detecting and describing changes in publication activities. Nevertheless, it is not possible to attribute possible changes of the publication activities to the media change towards Open Access in a causal way: Publication activities depend on many factors and, therefore, changes of the publication activities might be caused by other circumstances. Examples of possible influences are the dynamics of fields of research, changes of academic standards for publications, research evaluations, and changes in the organisation of learned societies. For this reason, guideline-based expert interviews are conducted with scientists of both disciplines. The aims of the interviews are twofold:

First, the interviews allow to learn more about the background orientations and strategies of the interviewed scientists with respect to their own publication activities. In this context, the interviews shall help to clarify in how much possible changes of publication activities are related to Open Access and how Open Access interplays with other factors.

Second, the interviews are conducted to gather material that gives insights into the interpretation of scientists with respect to the publication media of the particular discipline. In this context, the interviews shall contribute to clarify, what kind of attribution process takes place that makes publication media of a discipline a more or less attrative place to publish research.