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Heather Morrison

…successfully defended her doctoral thesis, Freedom for Scholarship in the Internet Age, at the SFU School of Communication on November 21, 2012.


Freedom for Scholarship in the Internet Age examines distortion in the current scholarly communication system and alternatives, focusing on the potential of open access. High profits for a select few scholarly journal publishers in the area of science, technology, and medicine contrast with other portions of the scholarly publishing system such as university presses that are struggling to survive. Two major societal trends, commercialization and irrational rationalization, are explored as factors in the development of distortion in the system, as are potential alternatives, including the commons, state subsidy, DIY publishing, and publishing cooperatives. Original research presented or summarized includes the quarterly series The Dramatic Growth of Open Access, an empirical study of economic possibilities for transition to open access, interviews with scholarly monograph publishers, and an investigation into the potential for transition to open access in the field of communication. The similarities and differences between open access and various Creative Commons licenses are mapped and analyzed. The conclusion features a set of recommendations for open access. Carefully transitioning the primary economic support for scholarly publishing (academic library budgets) from subscriptions to open access is seen as central to a successful transition. Open access changes the form of the commodity with respect to commercial publication, from the scholarly work per se to the publishing service; a major improvement that overcomes the trend towards enclosure of information, but not necessarily the dominance of the commercial sector. A multi-faceted approach is recommended as optimal to overcome potential vulnerabilities of any single approach to open access. The open access movement is advised to be aware of the less understood societal trend of irrational (or instrumental) rationality, a trend that open access initiatives are just as vulnerable to as subscriptions or purchase-based systems. The remedy for irrational rationality recommended is a systemic or holistic approach. It is recommended that open access be considered part of a potential for broader societal transformation, based on the Internet’s capacity to function as an enabler of many to many communication that could form the basis of either a strong democracy or a decentralized socialism.

Heather specializes in transformative change in scholarly communication, especially open access, as well as a professional librarian and adjunct faculty member at UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies.  Links to most of Heather’s work (published, informal and in-progress) can be found from the links on the left-hand side of this blog, or her scholarly blog, The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics. Or follow me on twitter @hgmorrison.

What is transformative change in scholarly communication?

The internet changes the possibilities for scholarly communication in ways that we have only begun to explore. One of the most obvious immediate possibilities is the transformation of the very limited dissemination of scholarly knowledge that was possible in print to the open sharing of the internet. This is why I am an advocate of open access to scholarly communication. But this is only one of the possibilities! For example, once we have open access to scholarly publications, we can openly share our work with colleagues in developing countries – and include them in our scholarly conversations, by reading their works – or inviting them to participate in our research teams.


Selected current, recent & forthcoming projects


Last updated December 13, 2012