Monday, May 11, 2015

Open Access or Open Wallets

I was chatting with a friend of mine who recently served on a grant review committee.  One of the things that apparently came up in the deliberations were requests for money to fund open access.  Whuck?

When we speak of open access to academic work, the basic idea makes sense.  We are generating knowledge that should be disseminated widely, especially if we are using public funds to do the research.  The trick is how to provide access to our research.  The old/current model for much research is via peer-reviewed journals.  These journals are desirable outlets since review (usually double blind--the authors don't know the reviewers and the reviewers don't know the authors) are conducted by our peers who consider whether the work is relevant, well-executed, and novel.  Does it make a contribution? 

The problem of late is this: in the good old days, all of these journals were published on paper and subscriptions were bought by academic libraries.  Individuals and organizations could subscribe as they saw fit.  Once this stuff got online (and nearly all of it is online these days), the question of access became more salient.  The publishers gated the journals, and asked universities to spend quite a fair amount of money to have access.  Ordinary people cannot/will not pay for access, although they can buy individual articles.  The publishers make tremendous profits since they are not actually making anything--the creative efforts are by the academics who are seeking to both disseminate their findings and get the credentials they need to get hired/tenured/promoted.  With most of the stuff being digital, the real costs for the publishers has gone down, yet the gates remain up.  Why not?  They have captured a market, so why should they give it up?

So, how do we provide greater/open access in this reality?  Three alternatives seem to emerge:
  1. One can pay a publisher to provide open access for a particular piece.  The price for doing so can be minor or quite steep.  
  2. Publish your stuff in a journal  is aimed at providing open access to anyone without any fees.  The best example of this in Poli Sci is Research and Politics, which is "published" by Sage but seems but has wide open access.
  3. Publish with normal journals but put the penultimate draft online on one's website.  This is usually kosher, although some publishers may have problems with it.  
My focus today is on the first method, as individuals seem to be applying for grants to do research but are asking for money to give to a publisher to allow their piece to be open access.  While the grant agencies want open access, I don't think they had in mind subsidizing the profits of these journal publishers.  But that is exactly what will happen if people spend their grant money by giving it to publishers to open the gates for their pieces.

So what to do?  I am bound by the new SSHRC policy for my new project, so I have to figure this out.  What about books?  Ah, let's not think about that.  What about articles?  I think what I will do is a combination of 2 & 3.  If my stuff gets accepted by gated journals, I will blog about the piece (this is actually the true path for open access since ordinary citizens are probably not interested in lit reviews, methodology sections and the like) and post the semi-final version online.  What I will not do?  I will not give money to journal publishers to provide open access

1 comment:

David Samuels said...

Steve - with SAGE, if you ask they will typically ungate for 6 weeks or more, particularly if the piece is linked to a blog post. Not too many people ask us at CPS, but SAGE has never said no. Paying for it to be permanently ungated is pretty steep, over US$1k if I recall.