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[ Publishing Workflows ] October 29, 2023

Do we see the legacy of the Luddites in today's publishing world?

As we were writing our forthcoming whitepaper, on the results of our recent Research Integrity Survey, we kept returning to the story of the Luddites. How does their resistance to technology relate to today's attitudes in the world of scholarly publishing?

The story behind the Luddites

Nowadays, you’ll often hear the phrase Luddite used in a negative context, referring to backward thinkers or individuals who are seen as resistant to progress and innovation. But, this characterization oversimplifies the nuanced history of the Luddites and the relationship humans have with technology.

The Luddites were textile workers in 19th century England who resisted the introduction of new machinery to their workplaces at the brink of the Industrial Revolution. They would often sneak into factories, raiding them and destroying machinery to slow down the industrial progress they saw as detrimental to their livelihoods. Their protests eventually attracted severe backlash from mill and factory owners, who resorted to severe measures, including the use of firearms, legal action, and military force. The results were grim, involving arrests and executions of accused and convicted Luddites.


Did they really fail?

In hindsight, it’s easy to say that the Luddites failed to stop technological progress.
The automated machinery that the Luddites opposed ended up playing a pivotal role in kick-starting the Industrial Revolution. This led to cheaper costs of goods, more accessibility, and an overall improvement in the standard of living. 

But, it's important to understand that the Luddites' resistance wasn't a blanket rejection of technology, but a specific protest against the exploitative practices of businesses. They noticed that the main people that would benefit from the use of these tools wouldn't be the workers themselves. Instead, it would be the factory owners who would gain power through these technological advancements, using them as tools to displace and disempower their workforce, collecting a greater share of profits. While many misinterpret their efforts, the Luddite struggle was rooted in a critique of the misuse of technology for businesses and organizations, not an outright rejection of progress.


What can we learn from the Luddites in the modern age?

The Luddites prompted critical conversations with their courageous efforts that are still relevant today. Upholding responsible technology use for human advancement continues to be relevant to our modern world.

In the world of scholarly publishing, where automated tech could greatly streamline processes, especially in peer review, how should we be using technology? There’s potential in these emerging technologies, but we must remember, we can't have peer review without the "peer”.

In an age where deep-fakes and AI-generated imagery both confuse the public and challenge artists, while Hollywood writers push back against automated authors replacing them, it’s understandable that almost 80% of Americans don’t trust businesses to use tech responsibly. Embracing tech isn't the issue; it's how we use it. Just like the Luddites fought for, we need to make sure that the tools we use enhance human potential rather than replace it.

We saw this uncertainty loud and clear in our Research Integrity Survey, with nearly 50% of publishers expressing concerns that technology would increase rates of research misconduct. It’s reasonable to expect reservation from  publishers when it comes to adapting new technology for fear of how it can affect their organizations, financial security, and member retention. But, the key lies in not keeping new paradigms at arms length but finding the optimal way to harness these tools for the benefit of our community.



We’ve recently released results from our Research Integrity Survey. Our upcoming whitepaper will dive deeper into these results as well as technology readiness, history, and its impact on scholarly publishing today.

Stay tuned for more insights!

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