Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is Academia.edu really such a bad thing?

Academia.edu has been getting a lot of negative press in the scholarly community. I see some of this on Twitter, and I've been sent some articles and links. I just read Sarah Bond's article in Forbes, "Dear Scholars, Delete your Account at Academia.edu.:" She has three objections to Academia. I don't find any of them compelling, although one of them is troubling. First, "It is not a 'real' .edu" The domain is an old one and a commercial operation seems to be disguising itself as an educational institution. Wow, I was really fooled by that. Stupid and unsophisticated users might get confused. Give me a break, this is trivial.

Second, Academia is trying to get money for enhanced features. I guess I'm not sure how that is a bad thing. Perhaps if the basic fact that they are commercializing scholarship (my point 3) is abhorrent to you, then the enhanced features might be especially abhorrent. Again, this seems trivial to me.

Third, Academia is commercializing scholarship. They are trying to make money on the backs of scholars who do the work pretty much for free. This I see as troubling, but not a killer problem. Compare this to Elsevier and other commercial publishers. They commercialize scholarship, making money off my hard work, while inhibiting access to it. They harm my career by making money restricting access to my works. I find that practice morally abhorrent. By contrast, Academia.edu is commercializing scholarship while promoting and improving my career and professional goals. They are making my papers more widely available. I am not at all outraged by this fact, but I am somewhat disturbed by it.

What are the alternatives? I also have a page on Selected Works. I started that on a trial basis (as I did with Academia), but Academia.edu quickly turned out to be an easier process for uploading and gave my papers more readers. Selected Works does have a few features lacking at Academia (e.g., you can file a paper under more than one category). I initially posted papers on my own funky html website (now seriously out of date). Elsevier threatened my university and we got an order from an administrator to remove published papers without explicit permission to post (which I ignored). Now, the university is going to eliminate funky faculty sites and promote a more standardized (properly branded) faculty website, which I may or may not use to post my papers. My university does have an online archive, but it is not set up properly as a paper repository, and this would bury my papers even deeper than they are in my own site. I have considered posting papers there, and using links (not papers) on Academia edu. I am sure not going to start using an NEH website for important professional works, given uncertainties of the Trump presidency.

The professional society in my discipline, the Society for American Archaeology, is hopeless for help with archiving papers. I have considered using the new sociology version of ArXiv, and perhaps replacing papers on Academia.edu with links. It is called SocArXiv. It is mainly inertia that keeps me from making any changes right now.

For me, the  advancement of scholarship and promotion of wide access to my work are among my strongest professional values. Sometimes this requires me to do unpleasant things--talk to uninformed reporters, collaborate with individuals I'd rather avoid, deal with clueless journal editors, write grant proposals, go to faculty meetings. Putting up with Academia.edu trying to make money on my scholarship is just another of those unpleasant things I have to do. Yes, I would be more comfortable with a good archive, widely used and convenient, that was not a commercial enterprise. But until I find that (and have the time for a massive conversion), I will continue to put up with Academia.edu.


protohedgehog said...

Good post. I wrote something along similar lines here: blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2017/02/01/who-isnt-profiting-off-the-backs-of-researchers/ ScienceOpen is a possible and legal alternative to both RG and Academia.edu. (Disclosure: I work for SO)

Chris Pierce said...

Michael, What disturbs you about a group trying to make a living by promoting academic work in a user-friendly way? So far, I have found no reason to pay academia.edu for their extended features. If other find them useful, why object? Thanks for thoughts on this.