#SocSciMatters

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An open culture for the Social Sciences

The global problems facing academics do not come in neat packages: they increasingly demand solutions that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries and individual academic communities. While some academic communities are more predisposed to engaging and collaborating, in others such practices are less embedded.


Establishing a research infrastructure that embraces openness and transparency, and which can nurture collaborative efforts and promote greater genuine interdisciplinarity, is a collective-action problem involving a range of stakeholders—from individual researchers and faculties, to funding bodies and policy makers. Publishers too have an important role to play in fostering a culture of openness, transparency and rigor—for instance, by maintaining strong ethical and editorial standards across publications, implementing robust policies on data transparency and sharing, and by providing innovative publishing platforms to support the wide dissemination and outreach of research.


Going the open access route


More publishers are also now offering authors the chance to publish their work open access—that is, free of all restrictions on access and of many of the restrictions of use (depending on the type of licence opted for). Open access publishing models sit very comfortably within a research culture that is increasingly aware of the merits and urgency of ensuring research is visible to as wide an audience as possible.


Palgrave Macmillan recognises that open access has become an integral part of the publishing landscape: since 2011 we have offered an open access option across many of our subscription journals (currently over 40), and in 2013 we extended this to include monographs and Pivots.


Open access publishing brings numerous benefits for readers and authors, as well as the wider academic community: greater public engagement, wider collaboration, and faster impact. Studies have shown increased readership of, and citations to, open access articles compared to similar articles behind subscription barriers. Evidence from Palgrave Macmillan’s own open access monograph programme shows that these books have higher download rates than those published under traditional models.


Although traditionally more established in the science and medicine communities due to the greater funding available for those disciplines, we are witnessing increased uptake of open access among academics in the social sciences and humanities.


Palgrave Communications - embracing multi- and interdisciplinarity


In January 2015 Palgrave Macmillan launched its first fully open-access journal, Palgrave Communications—a peer-reviewed journal encompassing all areas of the social sciences and humanities.


As a multi- and interdisciplinary outlet, the journal is well placed to provide a home for research addressing the complex 'grand challenges' of the 21st century. The journal is open to all theoretical and methodological perspectives, including research from inherently interdisciplinary fields from environmental sociology to the medical humanities.


In its first year of publication the journal has demonstrated its commitment to publishing methodologically rigorous and impactful research. To take one example, a research paper by Schippers et al. reported the results from a pilot involving 700 students who followed a self-authoring curriculum for a 2-year period. The researchers found that the trial resulted in the gender and ethnic minority achievement gap for the student group being almost erased. Later this year, the curriculum will be rolled out for the first time in a US school.


Palgrave Communications also features regular thematic collections dedicated to contemporary issues of pressing importance to social scientists. A rolling article series offers wide-ranging perspectives on the concept of ‘interdisciplinarity’, including case studies exploring the logistics and realities of bringing scholars from disparate disciplines together. Contributions include insights from The Hub at the Wellcome Collection and a project operating at the interface between biology, social science and history at the University of York (UK) as well as personal reflections on why working across disciplines can cause anxiety. Readers can also find perspectives from gender studies, linguistics, and education studies.


In the coming year we will be publishing collections on a range of pressing and topical themes of interest to social scientists and those in allied fields. Noteworthy examples include Prof James Wilsdon’s collection (University of Sheffield, UK) on the theory, practice and politics of expert advice, and the role of the scientific advisor; and Prof Kath Woodward’s (Open University, UK) collection exploring gender studies, and the interrelationship of theory and activism, from multi- and interdisciplinary angles. Additional upcoming collections are listed on the journal’s website.


Open access publishing can make a valuable and significant contribution to enhancing the awareness and impact of social science research. Furthermore, it has the potential to facilitate the cross-fertilisation of ideas and sharing of research data and outputs between disciplines.


Open access can help prove the social sciences really do matter!