Support Scholars Who Share: Combating the Mismatch between Openness Policies and Professional Rewards
Are institutional policies designed to advance open scholarship capable of accomplishing that end? What other consequences might they have for the practice of research? These mandates undoubtedly increase the number of publicly-available articles and datasets in the short-term, but there is also an expectation that as researchers become accustomed to the new requirements, the culture within their disciplines will shift to support open research, for instance through the founding of new open-access journals or platforms. Is this reasonable? The answer depends on the fate of individual scholars who support openness within their fields. While disciplinary norms are not biological traits, they can be said to evolve as new attitudes take root and proliferate in the population of members. Cultural change is only sustainable when those who hold the new attitudes can remain in the population. In this paper, I argue that the choices that determine professional gain and loss facing each researcher who wants to advance in their areas of study can be modeled as a prisoner’s dilemma. I first discuss why patterns in researcher behavior and beliefs suggest a prisoner’s dilemma in the area of data sharing, then apply this line of reasoning to the problem of perverse incentives in open access publishing. Finally, I explain what makes certain open access mandates counterproductive and propose alternative solutions that reward researchers who choose to make their work open. This provides a path towards reforming disciplinary norms concerning publishing.