stable publication vs. crowdsourcing

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at EVA.MPG.DE
Thu Nov 17 08:10:56 UTC 2011

What we are observing is an interesting tension between a technological 
revolution and social conservatism: While our information machines now 
allow us to do many more things than we even imagined thirty years ago, 
the social world we inhabit is still the same.

In the social world of science, what counts is scientific publications 
and citations in scientific publications. One could imagine different 
ways of measuring scientific merit, but at the moment we can probably 
take this as a given.

This means that we need publication outlets that ensure (1) free 
accessibility, (2) stability (allowing for citation), and (3) 
selectivity (giving prestige to the publication). So this is just what 
Nigel Vincent, Alexis Dimitriadis and Christian Lehmann proposed.

Crowdsourcing is a great idea and it has worked for a number of 
projects, most notably Wikipedia, but it hasn't really worked in science 
so far, as far as I know. In linguistics, there are three crowdsourcing 
projects that I know of, two of which I've been involved in:

– Glottopedia, an attempt to create a multilingual dictionary of 
linguistic terminology (plus more), see
– Syntactic Structures of the World's Languages (see
– The blog comment function of WALS, where every chapter and every 
datapoint can be commented on (see, e.g.,

None of these have been great successes, as far as I can tell. It could 
be that there is no intrinsic reason for this, and that in the future 
such projects will be more successful. But I suspect that the reason why 
crowdsourcing doesn't work well in science is that contributing to such 
a project doesn't pay off. The currency in science is publication and 
citation, and such crowdsourced resources neither count as publications 
nor can they be cited. (This could change in the future, of course; 
Michael Cysouw has been developing a concept of "micropublications", but 
at the moment this is rather utopian.)

So at the moment is seems that we should concentrate our efforts on 
creating better publication outlets for prestigious open-access 
publications. There are some good open-access journals, but they are not 
sufficiently prestigious yet. To give them prestige, we need more 
publications by senior scholars in these open-access journals. 
Non-tenured junior linguists often cannot afford to publish in journals 
that are not yet very prestigious.


Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at
Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Deutscher Platz 6	
D-04103 Leipzig
Tel. (MPI) +49-341-3550 307, (priv.) +49-341-980 1616

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