The Case for an Institutionally Owned Knowledge Infrastructure

Article by James W. Weis, Amy Brand and Joi Ito: “Science and technology are propelled forward by the sharing of knowledge. Yet despite their vital importance in today’s innovation-driven economy, our knowledge infrastructures have failed to scale with today’s rapid pace of research and discovery.

For example, academic journals, the dominant dissemination platforms of scientific knowledge, have not been able to take advantage of the linking, transparency, dynamic communication and decentralized authority and review that the internet enables. Many other knowledge-driven sectors, from journalism to law, suffer from a similar bottleneck — caused not by a lack of technological capacity, but rather by an inability to design and implement efficient, open and trustworthy mechanisms of information dissemination.

Fortunately, growing dissatisfaction with current knowledge-sharing infrastructures has led to a more nuanced understanding of the requisite features that such platforms must provide. With such an understanding, higher education institutions around the world can begin to recapture the control and increase the utility of the knowledge they produce.

When the World Wide Web emerged in the 1990s, an era of robust scholarship based on open sharing of scientific advancements appeared inevitable. The internet — initially a research network — promised a democratization of science, universal access to the academic literature and a new form of open publishing that supported the discovery and reuse of knowledge artifacts on a global scale. Unfortunately, however, that promise was never realized. Universities, researchers and funding agencies, for the most part, failed to organize and secure the investment needed to build scalable knowledge infrastructures, and publishing corporations moved in to solidify their position as the purveyors of knowledge.

In the subsequent decade, such publishers have consolidated their hold. By controlling the most prestigious journals, they have been able to charge for access — extracting billions of dollars in subscription fees while barring much of the world from the academic literature. Indeed, some of the world’s wealthiest academic institutions are no longer able or willing to pay the subscription costs required.

Further, by controlling many of the most prestigious journals, publishers have also been able to position themselves between the creation and consumption of research, and so wield enormous power over peer review and metrics of scientific impact. Thus, they are able to significantly influence academic reputation, hirings, promotions, career progressions and, ultimately, the direction of science itself.

But signs suggest that the bright future envisioned in the early days of the internet is still within reach. Increasing awareness of, and dissatisfaction with, the many bottlenecks that the commercial monopoly on research information has imposed are stimulating new strategies for developing the future’s knowledge infrastructures. One of the most promising is the shift toward infrastructures created and supported by academic institutions, the original creators of the information being shared, and nonprofit consortia like the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation and the Center for Open Science.

Those infrastructures should fully exploit the technological capabilities of the World Wide Web to accelerate discovery, encourage more research support and better structure and transmit knowledge. By aligning academic incentives with socially beneficial outcomes, such a system could enrich the public while also amplifying the technological and societal impact of investment in research and innovation.

We’ve outlined below the three areas in which a shift to an academically owned platforms would yield the highest impact.

  • Truly Open Access
  • Meaningful Impact Metrics
  • Trustworthy Peer Review….(More)”.