Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Invisible contributions in visible papers

Michael E. Smith, Buried in an Edited Volume, Publishing Archaeology, December 10, 2007.  Excerpt:

...Scholarship suffers when important papers are buried in edited volumes....

I’ve blogged about problems with edited volumes before, from the perspective of authors and editors. Now I will make some remarks from the perspective of the reader and the advancement of the discipline in general. The example I am going to use is the following paper:

Sheehy, James J. (1996) Ethnographic Analogy and the Royal Household in 8th Century Copan. In Arqueología Mesoamericana: Homenaje a William T. Sanders, edited by Alba Guadalupe Mastache, Jeffrey R. Parsons, Robert S. Santley and Mari Carmen Serra Puche, pp. 253-276. vol. 2. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.

This is an important paper [but is almost never cited]....

One problem with Sheehy’s paper is that he buried an important methodological section within a site-specific paper, with little evidence in the title of the paper. But a bigger problem is that it was published in a semi-obscure edited volume in the first place....[I]f the comparative data had been published in a journal article, the discipline would have been much better served. And today, if important contributions like this were published in Open Access journals the impact on scholarship would be even greater. But that would require archaeologists to start OA journals and use them....

Comment.  I want to pick up on the fact that the title of Sheehy's article didn't flag his comparative analysis or contribution to methdology.  This is a common problem.  Because titles and abstracts must be brief, they cannot highlight all the important observations or arguments in a paper, especially in longer, richer papers.  It's almost inevitable that papers will be under-cited for that kind of shadowed contribution, whether they were published in journals or in edited volumes.  The only way to expose those contributions to readers who would benefit from them is to ensure that the articles containing them are subject to full-text searching.  That by itself doesn't require OA, of course.  But while digitization and search indexing bump up visibility, OA bumps it up again, opening the text to more search engines and more users.