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Recent Links on Open Access

with 2 comments

  • Fissures Evident in Panel on Google Settlement.  ‘“Everybody’s represented at the table, publishers, copyright holders, authors,” [one librarian] said, “but there’s no one there representing the public.” There’s no transparency in the University of Michigan’s amended agreement, she said, so “even if everything’s being done right, no way for us to perceive that.”’
  • The Public Index, ‘a site to study and discuss the proposed Google Book Search settlement’.
  • Horns of a Dilemma: Open Access or Academic Freedom: Philip Davis correctly points out that author-pays OA could put a strain on university libraries’ budgets if the libraries are asked to pay the authors’ publishing fees.  He then uses this observation to construct a straw-man argument against all OA, by implying that OA is incompatible with academic freedom, and that subscription-based closed access is the best model.  I pointed out some of the flaws in this argument in the comments, until Philip cut off the discussion.  In my view, both subscription fees and author fees limit academic freedom by restricting participation to institutions and individuals who can afford to pay, and neither model places any real limits on how much money publishers can extort.  In the subscription model, the result is that only the richest institutions can afford to give their members the freedom to read the best journals; in the author-pays model, the result is that only the richest institutions can afford to give their members the freedom to publish in the best journals.  I think the best alternative is to abandon the idea that academic publishing should be financially self-sustaining, and a fortiori that it should make a profit.  In any case, there is evidence that it need not cost much to publish a journal; many OA journals are published by universities themselves, at little or no cost.  (Richard Sever argued that if universities publish OA journals, this introduces a potential conflict of interest when faculty want to publish in their universities’ journals; he didn’t explain why this isn’t a problem for the closed-access journals that, as he pointed out, many universities publish.)
  • Deepak Singh comments on PLoS’s decision to promote article-level metrics and to ignore journal impact factors: ‘If you want article level metrics, you need to be web native. You need to be able to follow the links. So please, publish journals not as pdf versions of print, but as first class web citizens.’
  • In Search of Anthropology-Friendly Subject Repositories: are there any?
  • Finding a fair price for free knowledge: Writing in New Scientist, Peter Eckersley sets out ‘a challenge to the governments of countries that want to lead the way, whether rich or poor: sit down with Google (or one of its competitors), authors and publishers, and work out a deal that offers a complete, licensed digital library free to your citizens. It would cost taxpayers something, but less than they currently spend on buying scarce books and supporting large paper collections.’
  • ACM responds to the blogosphere: Scott Delman, Group Publisher of the Association for Computing Machinery, points out a problem with self-archiving: ‘The fact that ACM charges both for access to the published information in its Digital Library and also extends the courtesy of “Green OA” to its authors is actually less important to me (while both are important aspects of what we do) than the fact that ACM and many other association publishers serve as well-intentioned caretakers of the scholarly record. I have spent too many hours trying to identify the “most up-to-date version” of an author’s article on his or her Web site or digging through the various related institutional repositories to identify a specific version of an article to believe that any other system at the present time offers the advantages of publishing with learned societies.’  The implication seems to be that only those who can afford to pay should have access to ‘the scholarly record’, and that Delman doesn’t mind if everyone else has to dig through institutional repositories only to find out-of-date versions of articles.  The assertion that Green OA is a ‘courtesy’ that publishers extend to academics is also telling; in reality, it’s authors who giving something to publishers, not the reverse.
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Written by Benjamin Geer

27 July 2009 at 13:39

Posted in News, Opinion

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2 Responses

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  1. Dear Benjamin – I’d like to clarify a misconception above. My comment on Phil’s post over at The Scholarly Kitchen did not concern conflict of interest.

    Rather I pointed out that, if an academic institution has finite resources to fund OA publication and the total cost of publication for all faculty papers exceeds this, it will need to introduce an additional level of cross-disciplinary peer-review to decide whom to fund.

    In addition, I implied that this would be an increasing problem given the proliferation of commercial OA journals, which (unlike subscription journals) have a financial interest in setting the bar lower to increase the number of papers published – ultimately costing the academic community more.

    (Note that my mention of university presses was merely to point out that universities are already involved in publishing and that on the whole these are not enthusiastic supporters of OA – primarily because they see the model as flawed rather than because of ‘greed’.

    Richard Sever

    8 August 2009 at 15:49

    • Thank you for trying to clarify, Richard, but I think your argument remains unfounded, for several reasons. First, every journal, including subscription-based journals, has finite resources. Why should subscription-based journals, too, not eventually accept more articles than they have the resources to publish? If your hypothesis is correct, why have subscription-based journals not had to resort to two layers of peer review?

      Second, your argument about commercial OA journals has nothing to do with the scenario I was advocating, in which universities publish journals and fund them out of their own budgets (i.e. without subscription fees or author fees). In this scenario, journals would have no ‘financial interest in setting the bar lower to increase the number of papers published’. On the other hand, it seems to me that subscription-based journals do indeed have a financial interest in setting the bar lower, not by increasing the number of papers published, but by publishing articles that are favourable to corporate sponsors.

      Third, your claim that university presses have not shown much interest in OA is irrelevant to the question of whether OA is desirable and workable. It may well be that, to the extent that university presses are obliged to generate revenue in order to survive, they tend to see OA as a threat to the business model that has been imposed on them. But the question we are discussing here is precisely whether that business model is in the interests of academic research, or whether it should be abolished. Regardless of what university presses may currently favour, what is more relevant to the issue at hand is the evidence I cited that many OA journals are published by universities, with little or no revenue or expenses. This suggests that, whether the current players in academic publishing like it or not, such a model is a viable alternative to the present system.

      Benjamin Geer

      10 August 2009 at 15:26


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