Is open access a threat to traditional journals? Can they exist side by side, or is there a viable limit or advantage to maintaining a select few? Having asked my professors for interesting articles on online communities, I fell upon a discussion at the Media Anthropology Network http://www.media-anthropology.net/discussion_open_access_pub.pdf regarding the feasibility of going open access which brought up a number of questions:
Given that most journals are understaffed, and underfunded, would an influx of open access journals stretch out the existing pool of reviewers too thin?
To answer this, I think there are interesting parallels to be drawn between open access publishing and open source software projects. Among open source projects, there are often competing developer communities working on very similar projects. The developers of the KDE desktop, and the Gnome desktop have both created excellent graphical environments that can be run on the free and open source GNU operating system. Arguments have been made to the effect that their talents are spread thin, and if they just worked together they could create something even better.
Over at cool.org, Eric Raymond, in a video interview, argues that “it turns out to be really important that theres a lot of fluidity and play and slip in the way that the linux world is organized basically as a bunch of little projects that people then sort of assemble horizontally into distributions but there are multiple competing distributions and if you don’t like a particular project its easy to plug in a competing project. Thats harder to do in the BSD world there distributions tend to be dominated by small elites and the distributions themselves are more rigid…
… that imposes a certain uniformity a certain rigidity that turns out to be a problem because if you have a policy disagreement or a philosophy disagreement with the elite that runs a particular distribution your only alternative really is to clone the entire distribution and go into competition with them and that means that the BSD world tends to be a lot more fractious and to have a smaller community and to have much more bitter politics than the linux community does… ” (http://cool.org/?p=59)
Having no experience with anthropological journals, I wonder how this argument holds up. Are traditional journals the small elite, with a smaller fractious community, and open access journals the new community charged Linux? But theres no reason existing journals can’t just go open access. And in the case of Linux and BSD, both are open source (with different license particularities). So here theres a difference between going open access, and the way we go about managing the production as a whole.
Along with arguments to go open access, are arguments to open up the review process and to speed up publishing times. A lot of it has to do with control, and responsibility to the larger community.
I think its important not to over complicate the matter however. Peer review is one thing, open access publishing is another, both can also work together. But if peer review is a challenge for journals, in that finding reviewers is a challenge and a burden on the academic community, then perhaps there are ways to open up the review process as well (having never published I am only beginning to look into all the pitfalls of anonymous vs public review, etc).
In my own experience I am pretty much clueless, even as a grad student, as to which journals bring prestige and which don’t. I certainly go out of my way to cite papers I find online -(aka out of my way to avoid digging through actual library shelves).