Scientific texts online – Quote me if you can!

At the moment, I am preparing my phd thesis for upload. Which makes me realize how many questions I have about Open Access, licenses and everything. What was most annoying today were the references to other texts. My topic (Free/Libre Open Source Software Communities) entails that I found a lot of online publications. I rather had actual books for the background. The newer and more related articles were – in most cases – articles published online under conventional copyright.

I found the texts I cited between 2006/07 and 2011. Given that I updated quite a lot of links before handing the thing in in 2011 it was quite a shock to see that more than half of them had to be updated again today, about one and a half years later.

Here is what happened to the links / texts:

  • Some texts were apparently moved to these „scientific social networking“ sites by their authors. Even if it’s possible to download texts from there, there is not necessarily a visible download link that you can use to cite such a text. And you are constantly reminded that you should sign up and connect to people. „Access millions of full-texts. For free. Sign up now.“ What do these people want me to put into my bibliography? Links to those platforms? Seriously… How can I ever be sure, that such a private platform where I put my texts stays online, keeps giving access to those who don’t sign up and that it will remain gratis?
  • Other texts had moved from one university website to a different one. People work somewhere and put their list of publications and some pdfs onto the university server. They start a new job somewhere else and move everything.
  • Universities reorganize their Content Management Systems and decide to use different links to the file system than before. Example: Everything that was saved under will now be available under Yep.
  • One university that had a great collection of research related to Free/Libre Open Source Software closed it down, with the remark that they gave it all to a different project and that it’s in the internet archive. Which is okay because the texts are available but it still means all my links are broken.
  • And some documents have just been replaced by links to regular books I could order. Well…

All this leaves me quite sceptical. Rewriting all these links seems so useless – I could probably redo it every six months. Why do we upload papers? How to chose where to put them? Why do we upload them to universities who obviously do funny stuff to them? What role do these networking sites play as private publishers? How can all this Open Access thingy work if the links are that unstable?

Or maybe – as T. asked: What do we want references for in the first place? What’s the point in citing „Source: Someone on the Internet, 2007, link lost, but scientifically proven“? Do we mainly cite to be more credible? For me, references are offers to the readers. They can read what I read and come to their own conclusions. Also, you often get great literature by looking at other people’s bibliographies.

This is all quite astonishing. I mean look at the blogosphere where linking and being linked is a thing. Also, I keep meeting people in non-academic contexts for whom the coherence, consistency and reliability of web links are so important, they put a lot of work in link maintenance. And I’m not talking about manual work. They got it. Academia, when will you?

Edit: No, DOIs are not at all common in social sciences around here. Some people have seen them but don’t know what they are for (me until the other day). Some people know there is a thingy for stable links but have never used it. Many people simply don’t know they exist. And after all, you don’t necessarily have/want a publisher who would give you one.