"’On the Ruins of Seriality’: The Scientific Journal and the Nature of the Scientific Life"

The serialization of scientific print began around 1800 as an effort to challenge elite science and to make knowledge accessible to broader publics. Over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the scientific journal developed into the central institution of knowledge legitimization, bound up with discourses of objectivity, vocational dedication, and communal virtue. Since the last few decades, however, the journal has been at the heart of crisis narratives that warn of the erosion of science’s moral basis and creative capacity. Competition, careerism, and perverse incentives—reflected in and produced by the serial format—have left the scientific self without a sense of calling, the "scientific community" without a sense of community, and the general public of science without a sense of trust. Twenty-first-century science finds itself "on the ruins of seriality" (Lerner, 2015, p. 132).

Yet there have hardly been any attempts to reimagine scholarly communication without the journal in a central position.24 Notwithstanding vigorous debate on its (de)merits and intense experimentation with peer review and open publishing platforms, the scientific journal has proven to be a "sticky" institution. . . . And although in the digital world the journal’s constitutive nature as a serial format is becoming less and less relevant, it is still primarily the paper—as the base unit of scientific publication—that conditions the modalities of scientific research, writing, and reading, and orients conceptions of scholarly selfhood in both the scientific and the general culture.

The commercial publishers have also demonstrated their stickiness. The open access movement has posed a serious challenge, but all in all the publishing companies have been able to integrate demands for "openness" into their business models (just as the scientific societies were able to adapt to the rise of commercial publishing in the postwar period). . . . So, despite predictions that "networked brains" would revolutionize scientific communication and produce "an unprecedented public good" (Guédon, 2017), open access has essentially come to mean "pay to publish," that is, a return to the situation before the ascendancy of the subscription journal (see also Noel, 2020).


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Author: Charles W. Bailey, Jr.

Charles W. Bailey, Jr.