Interventions in scholarly communication: Design lessons from public health




Many argue that swift and fundamental interventions in the system of scholarly communication are needed. However, there are substantial disagreements over the short- and long-term benefits of most proposed approaches to changing the practice of science communication, and the lack of systematic, empirically based research in this area makes these controversies difficult to resolve. We argue that experience within public health can be usefully applied to scholarly communication.

Starting with the history of DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) application, we illustrate four ways complex human systems threaten reliable predictions and blunt ad-hoc interventions. We then show how these apply to interventions in scholarly publication – open access based on the article processing charge (APC), and preprints – to yield surprising results. Finally, we offer approaches to help guide the design of future interventions: identifying measures and outcomes, developing infrastructure, incorporating assessment, and contributing to theories of systemic change.

Author Biographies

Micah Altman, Center for Research on Equitable and Open Scholarship, MIT Libraries, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Micah Altman is a social and information scientist at MIT’s Center for Research in Equitable and Open Scholarship. 

Philip N. Cohen, University of Maryland

Philip N. Cohen is Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and the director of SocArXiv. In addition to open science, he writes about demographic trends, family structure, the division of labor, and health disparities.

Jessica Polka, ASAPbio

Jessica Polka is a biochemist and the Executive Director of ASAPbio (Accelerating Science and Publication in biology), a non-profit initiative promoting innovation and transparency via preprints and open peer review.




How to Cite

Altman, M., Cohen, P. N., & Polka, J. (2023). Interventions in scholarly communication: Design lessons from public health. First Monday, 28(8).