Career or Open Access?

Not only how we write, but also how we publish matters!

A survey conducted in 2010 found that 89 percent of the 38 000 active researchers that answered the survey are convinced that open access is beneficial for their research field, directly improving the way the scientific community work. Still only 8—10 percent of articles are published yearly in open access journals (Dallmeier‐Tiessen et al., 2011). One of the main advantages of open access journals is that they make original scientific research evenhandedly available to everyone with access to the Internet without discrimination between scholars with secured university positions, independent scholars and the general public. Access to journals beyond your own discipline, is also a prerequisite for multidisciplinary endeavors.

There is, however, a need for carrots to induce scholars to publish in open access journals. I suggest two distinct carrots. The first one is to give higher status to open-access journals in the recruiting and promoting process. A higher status for open-access journals would also create some downward pressure for the skyrocketing prices for scientific journals. A second, more straightforward, solution is a categorical cancellation by libraries of the most expensive journal in each subfield. Author pays is not a solution – it is a transformation of the problem.

The Problem: No Access

After defending your doctoral thesis, you are supposed to turn it into a scholarly book to be offered to a distinguished publishing house, or to present the main findings in one or two scientific articles. The reality in the academic valley of death, between thesis defense and tenure, are for many something completely different. Like many other recent doctors, I spent the year after finishing my doctoral thesis, writing applications after applications for various post-doc placements or at least a decent scholarship, while what was left of my doctoral scholarship run out.

Soon, I discovered that I did not run out solely of my scholarship, but also out of access to scholarly journals. I could of course have taken the train to the nearest fully fledged university library some two hundreds kilometers away every time I needed an article, if they happen to subscribe to the journal in question (Due to family and financial reasons, I was living in a small town, a long way from any decent research library). In other words, I was in the same situation as many other independent scholars, and the general public – those who finance most academic research trough their taxes.

My circumstances made me extremely happy with the existence of Google Books, as well as with its non-commercial alternatives as Archive http://www.archive.org/ and Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org, or Runeberg for Nordic literature http://runeberg.org/ and Zeno for German http://www.zeno.org. For the moment, I did not give much thoughts about the possible dangers related to Google’s recent settlement and the monopoly on virtual knowledge it might create. I was though happy that people as Robert Darnton (2009) at Harvard University have taken the time to read through the 134 pages long settlement or its 15 appendices of legalese. I preferred to spend my time writing yet another ten job or scholarship applications.

As an historian, I should in theory have a long time perspective. My biggest concerns were, however, not that Google might misuse its monopoly sometimes in the future; I was concerned about my current access to scholarly journal and monographs. Google Book solves this at least when considering old books out of copyright. For a historian, this is already quite a lot. Regarding contemporary scholarly journals, I did not even have access to my own published articles. I have of course them on my own hard disk, at least as the last copy for proofreading. And I have probably made some copyright infringements when I have sent copies of my own articles as writing samples to support my applications for scholarships or academic positions.

My situation of no access reaffirmed my theoretical support for open access journals. I would, in theory, favor publishing in open access journals. As a young scholar, with a family to support and without a secured position, my main selection criteria is in practice how the chosen journal would look in my curriculum vitae.

Eric Schnell (2009) argues that this reaction is typical in most academic disciplines, and he is probably right. Matters like whether the journal is in indexed in the ISI citation index and other things affecting the status of the journal is more important than whether the journal in open access or not. Unfortunately, journals with a good status seldom are. Peter Suber (2009) explains this phenomenon with the fact that impact factors discriminate against new journals, and most open access journals are new: “Journals are not even eligible for IFs until they are two years old, and after that Thomson Scientific only computes IFs for a select subset of journals.” Fortunately there exist several alternative citation indexes. One example is Google Scholar, which has a very broad inclusion of scientific outlets. Some might even argue that it is even too broad. Thus it would better work as a compliment to Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge than as an alternative to it. There exists also several alternative impact metrics, like the age-weighted citation rate, where the number of citations to a given paper is divided by the age of that paper (Harzing 2010). The existence of alternatives is, however, not enough if they are not taken into use.

Some Solutions

One of the main advantages of the various open access journals operating on the Internet is that they make original scientific research available also to laymen, the taxpayers who finance scientific research in the first place. There is, however, a need for carrots to induce scholars to publish in open access journals. I would toss the ball to the Ivy League and other prestigious universities. They could take the first step by favoring open access journals when evaluating academic merits. I am confident that the rest of the academic world would follow, it usually does. The advantage of this approach is that it would lift up researchers with more interest in the societal impact of their research, as it would favor researchers valuing accessibility of their research over the prestige of the outlet of their research.

There exists various initiatives for open access through self-archiving, where researchers deposit free copies of their articles on the Web. The burden is here again dropped on individual researchers, who should on their own find out whether the policy of the peer-reviewed journal of choice allows self-archiving or not, and whether it holds for preprint or post-print versions of articles. This should be a service provided automatically by all research libraries. At least the University of Salford provides such a service; you fill in an online form with the details of the peer-reviewed article and send it, along with the final accepted version, to the repository whose staff checks, whether the copyright policy of the journal allows it to be uploaded (Reisz, 2009). A similar service is provided by the University of Stirling trough STORRE (https://dspace.stir.ac.uk), makes it even easier for the author, as his only duty is to check the accuracy of his articles included.

Erich Schnell´s (2009) counter argument for such a service is that: “Keeping track of all the policies of all the journals, and processing the scholarly output of an entire faculty, would require a significant resource investment by a research library. So much so that other valuable services, even journal subscriptions, may have to be discontinued.” He is right in the short-run. In the long-run self-archiving decrease the cost of libraries. Here lies the difficulty of changing status quo; it causes extra costs in the short-run while the savings emerge in the long-run. Erich´s solution is “that authors should review the copyright permissions form before signing it and make adjustments to assure that a self-archived copy is permitted”, adding though that “…untenured faculty may not want to risk possible rejection by asking”.

A bigger financial problem for research libraries is, however, the escalated subscription prices of scientific journals. The problem is perhaps not so great in the humanistic disciplines. No library would pay up to $20 000 for a year’s subscription of a history journal, as the price might be for a journal of neurology, or even $3 500, which is the average price for a chemistry journal (Darnton, 2009). So why should someone in the social sciences or humanities then even become worried? One reason is that the money for these skyrocketing subscription prices comes in the end from the same source – the pockets of taxpayers. If these escalating costs are not counter-measured with additional funding, then they are dealt with cut backs elsewhere.

For historians of science and technology, like me, the escalating cost of scientific journals creates also direct problems of access, especially if your university does not include the sciences of your interest. It is also obstructing multidisciplinary endeavors as libraries can only afford to subscribe to journals closely related to the special fields practiced at the university.

Instead of just lamenting, I would like to bring forth some solutions to the skyrocketing prices for scientific journals. First, I believe that a higher status given for open-access journals in the recruiting and promoting process would in the long run create downward pressure for the escalated subscription prices by commercial publishers.

Another, more straightforward, solution would be a categorical cancellation by libraries of the most expensive journal in each subfield. This would punish the greediest publisher, and create a downward spiral in the pricing where each publisher would try to price its journals just below the price of their competitors. In case of a draw, both journals should be cancelled in order to hinder pricing agreements between publishers. Someone might argue that this would mean a cancellation of high-quality journals in order to support lower quality journals, or cancelling much-used journals in order to support little-used journals. This argument hangs though on the assumption that the price of a journal is directly related to its quality and its use. We could also consider dividing the price of the journal with its impact factor, taking into account different alternative impact factor indexes, and then cancel the one with the highest price/quality–index. Alternatively, if we are able to measure the use of the journals, we could calculate a price/use-index. The money freed up by cancellations can, then again, be used to support open access.

I can be argued that the second neglect the fact that many journals are incorporated in a Big Deal agreement with the publishers. Cancelling one journal, would subsequently not be possible without cancelling the entire agreement with that particular publisher. A possible solution for this would to make a similar cost benefit calculation between different bundles, and then cancel that package with the price/quality–index or price/use-index. For sure this would mean throwing some important journal over board in the short run, but it would be beneficial for the whole scientific community in the long run.

The report of the UK Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings (2012), the so called Finch report, recommend that a clear policy direction should be set towards support for publication in open access or hybrid journals, funded by article processing or publishing charge APCs, as the main vehicle for the publication of research. Unfortunately, the suggested author pays financing of open access journals does not solve the problems listed at the beginning of the article – it just turns the problem upside down. In a statement responding to the Finch report, The American Historical Association (2012) raised the question:

Would the unfairness of unequal access be replaced by a different unfairness, one of opportunity to publish based on the availability of funds? Rich universities (and rich authors) can with equanimity pay a charge to have work published. So can those funded by research grants with provisions for publication subventions built in. But others, especially junior scholars and those with only tenuous institutional arrangements, cannot pay.

The Dallmeier‐Tiessen et al. (2011) survey mentioned in the introduction of this article, found that the largest barrier to publish in open access journals is the availability of funding to pay publishing charges. Of those explaining why they had not published open access articles 39 percent mentioned lack of funding for publication fees. Author pays; modify the original problem of no access to scientific articles facing scholars without secured university positions, into a problem of no access to outlets for publishing. Most detrimental it would be for the publishing by scholars from low-income countries – the very same persons that have most to gain from a properly conducted open access movement.

Redirecting more research funds to fund article publishing charges again means less funds available for actual research, widening the gap between researchers with secured positions and those struggling between sporadic scholarships. The only real solution, is what Paul G. Haschak (2007) calls the ’Platinum route’ to open-access: ‘It is my firm belief that all scholarly journal articles should be free and freely accessible. There never should be a charge to the readers, the authors, or the institutions for access.’

Why should then academic institutions then put the resources to promote open access? Publishing costs time and money, even without the lofty profits of publishing houses and normal printing costs absent in online publishing. The editors will use their work time or spare time, which for academics often get blurred, servers have to be maintained, etc. The referees are doing their part for free, regardless whether it is for the benefit of the society as a whole or for the academic publishers. I would consider resources put in open access journals as an investment in the recognizability and prestige of the University hosting it. This again will attract both students and researcher, which further enhance the recognizability and prestige of the University. Perhaps we should consider hosting and running an open access journal as a prerequisite for any honorable University.

Conclusions

To reach as large readership as possible: Not only, how we write, but also how we publish matters! Open access journals or decently priced scholarly journals provide means to reach a wide readership. How we write then decide whether the texts accessible will be read beyond the first few lines. Besides teaching and learning how to write, also teaching and learning in how to publish is needed (These thoughts have been influenced by Dominguez, 2009 & Severino and Gilchrist, 2009).

One of the main advantages of open access journals is that they make original scientific research evenhandedly available to everyone with access to the Internet without discrimination between scholars with secured university positions, independent scholars and the general public. Access to journal beyond your own discipline, is also a prerequisite for multidisciplinary endeavors. Author pays is not a solution – it is a transformation of the problem.

There is, however, a need for carrots to induce scholars to publish in them. In this article, I present two distinct carrots. The first one is to give higher status to open-access journals in the recruiting and promoting process. A higher status for open-access journals would also create some downward pressure for the skyrocketing prices for scientific journals. A second, more straightforward, solution is a categorical cancellation by libraries of the most expensive journal in each subfield.

Note: The thoughts expressed here have earlier been briefly presented as Favoring open access when evaluating academic merits & 2 solutions to escalating prices of scientific journals in the OA Journal of Brief Ideas. The author has published several articles in the open access journal Electronic Green Journal, his latest article is, however, securely behind a paywall.

References

American Historical Association, 2012. AHA Statement on Scholarly Journal Publishing, at http://blog.historians.org/publications/1734/aha-statement-on-scholarly-journal-publishing (Accessed 20.1.2013).

Suenje Dallmeier-Tiessen, Robert Darby, Bettina Goerner, Jenni Hyppoelae, Peter Igo-Kemenes, Deborah Kahn, Simon Lambert, Anja Lengenfelder, Chris Leonard, Salvatore Mele, Malgorzata Nowicka, Panayiota Polydoratou, David Ross, Sergio Ruiz-Perez, Ralf Schimmer,Mark Swaisland, Wim van der Stelt, 2011. “Highlights from the SOAP project survey. What Scientists Think about Open Access Publishing,” arXiv:1101.5260, at http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1101/1101.5260.pdf (Accessed 5 April 2012).

Robert Darnton, 2009. “The Google & the Future of Books,” New York Review of Books, volume 56, number 2 (February 12), at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22281 (Accessed 21 March 2012).

Eric Schnell, 2009.Faculty Rewards Systems Discourage Alternative Scholarly Communications,” Blog Tuesday, September 29, at http://ericschnell.blogspot.com/2009/09/faculty-rewards-systems-discourage.html (Accessed 21 March 2012).

Peter Suber, 2009. SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #138, October 2, at http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/newsletter/10-02-09.htm (Accessed 21 March 2012).

A.W. Harzing, 2010. Publish or Perish User’s Manual, at http://www.harzing.com/pophelp/metrics.htm#awcr (Accessed 21 March 2012).

Paul G. Haschak, 2007. “The ’platinum route’ to open access: a case study of E-JASL: The Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship, Information Research, volume 12, number 4, paper 321, at, http://InformationR.net/ir/12-4/paper321.html (Accessed 20.3.2012).

Reisz, 2009. “Learning to share,” Times Higher Education, 12 November, at http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=409049 (Accessed 21 March,

R. Dominguez, 2009. “Wiggle Room and Writing,” Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, at http://www.uiowa.edu/~ijcs/writing/wu_dominguez.htm (Accessed 21 March 2012)

Severino, and M. Gilchrist, 2009. “A University’s Writing Practices from the Inside Perspective of the Writing Center,” Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, at http://www.uiowa.edu/~ijcs/writing/wu_severino.htm (Accessed 21 March 2012).

Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, 2012. Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications, at http://www.researchinfonet.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Finch-Group-report-FINAL-VERSION.pdf (Accessed 3 October 2012).

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