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"Open scholarship generates opportunities"

Philip Cohen, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Sociology

Philip Cohen

Philip Cohen is, unequivocally, a proponent of open science.

He’s a sociologist, a demographer, the director of graduate studies in Maryland’s sociology department, and the founder of SocArXiv — a free, non-profit, open-access repository containing a wide array of social science research.

Much of that research depends on a public audience for input and relevancy, Cohen said. The catalysts for a lot of Cohen’s own research into families, marriage and divorce came from interactions he had with the public. That’s why facilitating open science is a part of his personal mission.

“How do we know what’s important?” Cohen said. “Well, we have to talk to people, we have to know what matters to them, we have to read what they’re writing.”

Cohen created SocArXiv in 2016, as a solution to the issues he’s seen with traditional scholarly journals. Publishing in a journal can be excruciatingly slow, Cohen said — it sometimes takes upwards of a year to get research peer-reviewed and printed. Journals are also often behind paywalls, requiring subscriptions that bar access for many, and they don’t provide the kind of research transparency that engenders public trust.

“There was growing recognition that these are big problems,” Cohen said. “We especially wanted to find a way to help address those problems without blowing up the system.”

And so SocArXiv was born — a free-to-use, free-to-read digital archive of the social sciences, hosted by the Center for Open Science. Platforms like SocArXiv are useful for many reasons: they give research the credibility that comes with transparency, they allow for more public input and implementation of research findings, and they ensure that new research goes into circulation quickly — a value highlighted by the current coronavirus crisis.

“There are something like over 100,000 papers related to COVID-19 that have been posted on preprint servers like SocArXiv,” Cohen said. “This has been a really key teaching moment for the value of open science.”

And Cohen predicts that the pandemic’s long-term budgetary effects will further emphasize the importance of accessible research and utility of open-research repositories. Libraries and universities spend large amounts of money to grant their members access to traditional journals, Cohen said — funding that is being disrupted by the economic fallout from this global crisis.

“One of the big lessons from this is going to be ‘How can we do more with less?’ Cohen said. “Open scholarship is a key ingredient in answering that question.”