Dissertation Abstracts

Scholarly Communication in the Information Age: A Sociological Analysis

Author: Shirokanova, Anna , shirokanova@bsu.by
Department: Sociology
University: Belarusian State University, Belarus
Supervisor: Dr. Anatoli Rubanau
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: Russian

Keywords: scholarly communication , computer-mediated communicatio , scientific collaboration , open access
Areas of Research: Communication, Knowledge and Culture , Science and Technology , Theory


This research analyses the impact of electronic, computer-mediated communication on scientific collaboration, creation of international research teams, and the development of science in general. The goal of the research was to define the role of electronic scholarly communication in conducting research in the information age.
First, I differentiate two theoretical approaches to the information society and knowledge society, the economic approach that dominates informatization policies (Drucker, Machlup), and the sociological approach that promotes reducing digital inequality and access to knowledge for all (Bell, Masuda, Stehr). A special focus is given to the digital divide among scientists (Alatas, Keim, Connell) and power relations in social science (Buchowski, Neustupny).
Second, I summarize current trends in scholarly communication that provide the context for the use of computer-mediated communication among scientists. Those trends are the rapid growth of international and interdisciplinary collaborations; creation of temporary, project-oriented collaboratories; the growth of open access publications; the growth of coauthorship, and the increasing role of grass-root self-organization of scientists. The principles of scholarly communication discovered before, the Matthew effect (Merton), "invisible colleges" (Price), and limited attention space (Collins), are complemented today by the principle of visibility and that of widest access to the audience.
Next, I analyze the impact of electronic forms of scholarly communication which include modernized versions of established communication forms (scientific articles enriched online by multimedia, databases, "living reviews" or scientific communities and associations which become virtually boundaryless) and new forms of communication such as scientific blogs, fora, social networks for scientists (Academia.edu, ResearchGate, etc.), electronic archives and repositories (arXiv.org, PubMed, SSRN, etc.). These new forms increase the capacity and responsibility of individual scientists in promoting their work and in communicating it to a wider audience including business and citizens. The growing importance of electronic publishing is backed by the open access movement which gained support among a group of scientists protesting against publishers and by the governments' acts on open access.
The empirical part of my research included a survey of the use of electronic scholarly communication by Belarusian scientists (administered in 2012 in Minsk; a sample of n=453 was balanced on natural science/social science profile, professor/doctor/no degree). The survey revealed that 92% of scientists use the Internet regularly, 100% email for scholarly matters, but only 42% use Skype, and only 20% use social networks. 45% have published online, but only 15% have published in electronic journals. The goals for electronic scholarly communication are the search of information (95%), communication per se (60%), project coordination (38%); only 17% use it for online groupwork on the project. Active online communication and going to conferences are correlated. However, no gap in use was found among men and women and, contrary to expectations, among the generations. Although 80 per cent of scientists under 36 years use English in their work (vs. 50% in elder cohorts), it is not a decisive factor for international collaboration (80% of scientists collaborate with Russia and FSU vs. 50% with the EU/USA). Social scientists use social networks more often (30% vs. 7%), natural scientists - repositories (48% vs. 35%).