Coloring outside the lines

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image by frankieleon

Scholars produce a tremendous amount of content on the Internet that betters society and the world at large.  However, not all of this content is valued equally in terms of their career.  In academia, outreach, defined here as scientists engaging with the public about their research, is undeniably beneficial to the world but many would tell you that it is peripheral to what researchers should be doing or that it doesn’t “count.”  Outreach is viewed by many in the scholarly community as a checkbox on their next grant application or a distraction from what matters, their research and publications.  Some academics have gone so far as to harass scientists for doing what they consider to be too much outreach. In other cases scholars have pointed to outreach as a weakness in grant review and used it as justification for poor scores of a grant (“[he] may not have the bandwidth to coordinate this on such a large project alone, especially given his high time commitment to his blog”).

We’ve experienced this negative sentiment ourselves at The Winnower towards outreach or advocacy with some individuals in the community suggesting that we just publish outreach or advocacy pieces as if to imply that advocacy pieces are less than the all mighty research paper (we in fact publish both advocacy and original research and value them equally).  Others have called us “a glorified blog,” again with the implication that blogging is not publishing and it is somehow less than the anointed paper or preprint.

So how do we change this sentiment?  Outreach is undeniably vital for research and society.  How do we make outreach something that is also good for the researchers career? How do we get it to “count”?  Our first approach has been to offer the same traditional tools that journal publications receive to various forms of outreach and new media.  Currently, we offer digital object identifiers (DOIs) and permanent archival to blog posts, how-to articles, class essays, grants, peer reviews, Foldscope images from citizen scientists,  scholarly reddit AMAs, and more.  This content, typically referred to as grey literature, vastly outnumbers the primary literature and has enormous influence on the world and on research.  We were founded on the idea that we can improve scholarly publishing and we work on this every single day with the following aims:

·      To empower the individual publishers by giving them the same tools the massive ones hold. 

·      To make sure that content is not lost simply because it wasn’t in a journal. 

·      To give a platform to students or those that don’t have the opportunity to publish their work. 

·      To encourage outreach.

·      To encourage a diversity of new mediums for scholarly communication.  

We were once asked to describe what we do as if we were writing a poem, we said, we’re coloring grey literature and we don’t color inside the lines.  So, please, join us and start coloring outside of the lines with us for a better world.