Open Science in Archaeology: publication and special interest group

Work for two years, write a paper about it in two months, lose all rights to it in a second, hide it behind a pay-wall… Sound familiar? This is the traditional academic process in archaeology. Our very diverse work ranging from excavation, over lab tests, to interpretations is often only made available through a summarising publication that is rarely accessible to anyone other than institutions paying huge amounts of money. This is just not the way science works anymore. In such a system, how can we find out all the details of excavation results? How can we reproduce lab tests? How can we evaluate the empirical and historical background to a published interpretation in exhaustive detail? The answer is: we can’t.

It’s time for this traditional practice to change. Archaeology should follow the trend in academia towards more open science. The argument for open science in archaeology is made elaborately by Ben Marwick in a recently published paper in the SAA archaeological record, and the statements are supported by a large group of archaeologists (including myself). The paper announces the start of the SAA open science in archaeology special interest group. Check out the group’s wiki and get involved!

Here’s the paper’s abstract:

In archaeology, we are accustomed to investing great effort into collecting data from fieldwork, museum collections, and other sources, followed by detailed description, rigorous analysis, and in many cases ending with publication of our findings in short, highly concentrated reports or journal articles. Very often, these publications are all that is visible of this lengthy process, and even then, most of our journal articles are only accessible to scholars at institutions paying subscription fees to the journal publishers. While this traditional model of the archaeological research process has long been effective at generating new knowledge about our past, it is increasingly at odds with current norms of practice in other sciences. Often described as ‘open science’, these new norms include data stewardship instead of data ownership, transparency in the analysis process instead of secrecy, and public involvement instead of exclusion. While the concept of open science is not new in archaeology (e.g., see Lake 2012 and other papers in that volume), a less transparent model often prevails, unfortunately. We believe that there is much to be gained, both for individual researchers and for the discipline, from broader application of open science practices. In this article, we very briefly describe these practices and their benefits to researchers. We introduce the Society for American Archaeology’s Open Science Interest Group (OSIG) as a community to help archaeologists engage in and benefit from open science practices, and describe how it will facilitate the adoption of open science in archaeology.

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