Friday, July 08, 2016

Open access: you go first. No, YOU go first.

Note: Published as a distraction from the unrelentingly grim national news. For thoughtful reflections on those events, see the recent posts by Historiann and What Now.

At the Chronicle, Paul Basken reports that despite a faculty vote to encourage open access publication, "only about 25 percent of professors systemwide are putting their papers into a state-created repository that allows free outside access."

The title of the article is "The U. of California’s Open-Access Promise Hits a Snag: The Faculty."

Like everyone else, I love the idea of open access in theory, but I have questions.

Is it "the Faculty," though? Read between the lines and you'll see a few other lightly mentioned or unmentioned snags:

  • "But publishers, predicted to be the primary obstacle, have proved surprisingly compliant: Only about 5 percent of publishers have made any attempt to ask faculty members to opt out, he said."  
    Comment: "Asking faculty members to opt out" is not the same as a publisher giving his/her/its/their blessing to publishing on a university site before publication. Many publishers will allow only uncorrected proofs to be archived, not the final version of an article. Others allow only the manuscript, or "preprint."  What use is that to scholars? How do you cite this, since there would be no final page numbers? What's the point of preprints in this case?
  • "Much of the open-access movement centers on efforts to persuade scientific journals to adopt revenue models that do not rely on subscription fees. A common alternative asks authors, or their institutions or funders, to pay a fee to cover the costs of reviewing, editing, and assembling their journals."
  • Comment: For a humanities journal, that gold access "fee" that the essay so blithely skips over can be $3500 to $4000.  For ONE article.
  • Would your university or department pay that? Mine would not.  
  • Humanities grants would not pay for this, as the scientific ones do. 
  • And what if one journal had a fee of $2500 and a more prestigious one had $4000? Wouldn't you feel pressured to publish where the fee is lower, even if the higher-ranked journal would accept your article? 
  • And wouldn't this fee-for-review model encourage the kind of scammy "International Journal of Everything under the Sun" solicitations that clog my mailbox every morning?
  • To get people to comply, "California has relied on automation, creating a computer system that looks for any article by a university faculty member. The system then sends an email to the author, offering a link that automatically puts the article into the state’s open-access repository. That approach has been key just to getting up to the 25-percent compliance rate, Mr. Kelty said."

  • Comment: This is a good idea, full stop. I'd do this with articles I have already published, wouldn't you? 
  • The push for open access is to create journals that will compete with regular $$$$ journals put out by Elsevier, etc., which have an unbeatable business model: pay the editors in nothing but prestige, the contributors ditto, and the reviewers not even prestige, since they're supposed to be anonymous, and rake in the profits. Cutting back on this business model is a worthy goal./b>
    • Comment: Will publishing only in open access journals result in a tenurable record at Harvard or at your institution, or will a faculty member still need to publish in Science, Nature, PMLA, Novel, or whatever other top-level journals are out there? Once again, the most prestigious schools have to take the lead on this. Apparently people at UCLA, Berkeley, and the other California schools don't think that they can accumulate a tenurable record based on open access, and until they do, I doubt that others would follow suit, however worthy the goal. 

    So, in short: it's not just about the faculty. It's about an entire academic system that is pushing the faculty to do things that are worthwhile but--surprise!--are not necessarily rewarded. 


Contingent Cassandra said...

Indeed. At least in my small corner of the humanities world, I'm not seeing a lot of institution-level support for scholarly publishing in the humanities, open access or not. Instead, I'm seeing the opposite: editors forced to resign when various forms of institutional support (most often course releases and/or student work-study stipends) are withdrawn.

Open access is an excellent idea, but there *are* still some costs involved: editorial and staff (and editorial board/reviewer) labor, none of which are free even when they're "free"; they come out of somebody's professional money and/or time budget, and if there are increasing other claims on those budgets, then there is less money and/or time available for those tasks. And of course there are some infrastructure costs (server/storage space), which probably aren't huge in the great scheme of things, but aren't zero, either, especially you take into account the need to update platforms while maintaining content over time. I'm no fan of the big money-grubbing publishers, but they do provide some value for money, and sometimes even some added value, in the form of indexing and cross-linking and such.

I'm also not seeing any great eagerness on the part of my university, at least, to pay the open access fees that would make it possible to put my work in their repository. They'd be happy to take it if someone else paid, but, as you point out, humanities grants don't work that way.

In general, I'm afraid that all too many academic administrators see open access as a way to cut the library budget without incurring any additional expenses. They often seem to be hoping to reap some overhead as well (or at least a larger budget, which seems to be good for bragging rights, or something, even if it comes in one end of the spreadsheet and goes out the other, often taking some additional university money with it).

So, yes -- a good idea, but the execution still needs to be worked (and that will probably happen over time, and it won't be cheap, though it might be a bit cheaper than the products of the big for-profit publishers).

undine said...

Contingent Cassandra, this is the problem with all "disruptive" technologies: X will be dismantled and Y will be much better, when it is funded. The problem is, the funding part gets left out. I still think of the damage done to the mental health system in the 1980s when institutions were shut down and mental health centers were supposed to be funded. Not on my watch, said Reaganomics, and now we have jails instead.

Sorry--rant over.