Archive for the ‘Why do we need open access?’ Category

notes from “The Future of Scholarly Journals Publishing Among Social Science and Humanities Associations”

Notes from:

Waltham, Mary. 2009. “The Future of Scholarly Journals Publishing Among Social Science and Humanities Associations”,
Report on a study funded by a Planning Grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

This is an interesting report that reveals how large scholarly associations popular in the U.S. are adapting to new publishing environments. Unfortunately the article is perhaps too focused on the journals from these associations and it makes some rather bold conclusions based on these findings, that I think would look different if the study included more open access journals inside and outside the U.S.  This is mostly related to costs to publish a page, and how peer review fits in. But the report is about scholarly publishing within these big scholarly associations, and it shows the logic behind their publishing strategies even if I find the numbers a bit murky.

Publications from the American Anthropological Association generated revenue largely from print subscriptions. The report points out that print costs are high, but that if print publications were dropped, net income would drop. From this it infers that online publications are undervalued, being that they are subsidized by their print subscriptions.

It also points out that while an author pays OA model has been incorporated into most of the journals, very few authors used it.

While Science, Technical and Medical (STM) journals keep track of authors geographical distribution, Humanities and Social Science (HSS) journals do not pay much attention to it according to this comment in the report:

“v) STM publishers regularly record and report on the country of the corresponding author of articles
published. Such data is further reviewed and discussed by agencies such as the National Science
Foundation in the “Science and Engineering Indicators” series of reports published alternate years

  • This group of association publishers had collected relatively little data on the topic. Several commented that they believed that most of the authors of articles were from the US and this was borne out by a random review of the country of corresponding author for 25 articles published in 2007 by each journal and shown in Table 1.1.”

This ties into the previous post of notes discussing the distribution of Open Access journals (from Max Forte’s post) in relation to Wallerstein’s comments on the historical foundations of social science.

Peer review is also shown to be pretty restrictive:

“The ratio of article submission to publication is also distinctly different and since these journals publish fewer peer-reviewed articles they are often highly selective. Selectivity through peer-review takes in-house staff time (included in the study) and external reviewers’ time (not included in the study), and drives costs up.

  • Taking three consecutive years of submission and publication data together, five of the eight journals published less than 10% of the articles submitted to them.”

Although in one interview I had, a paper was rejected not based on peer review but rather editorial control. Is it selectivity through peer review, or by editor? How often is it the peer reviewers who decide a work shouldn’t be published?  And too bad they didn’t include external reviewer costs too, because from the few interviews I’ve done no one had been paid to peer review.

Specific to Open Access, the report states that while many of the associations adopted an author pays open access model, very few academics went for it:

“Open Access: There has been a dramatic increase in the percentage of publishers offering optional open access to authors, from only 9% in 2005 to 30% in 2008. This applies to a total of 1,871 titles. 53% of these publishers have enabled an open access option for all of their titles. However, the takeup of the open access option is low; of those publishers which have offered this option for two or more years under an author-pays model, 52.9% had a take-up rate of 1% or less, 73.5% had a take-up rate of 5% or less, and 91.2% had a take-up rate of 10% or less. The author fees set by these publishers range from under $500 to over $3000, but the majority (69%) charge between $1,000 and
$3,000. Bjork et al. calculated that of the estimated 1,350,000 journals articles published in 2006, 19.4% are freely accessible (4.6% OA immediately on publication, 3.5% freely accessible after an embargo, usually at least one year; and 11.3% through self-archiving).”

Of course, the AAA supports self archiving too, not that a quick look at the website would let you know. I wonder how many of these authors were aware of the option. I’m not necessarily in favor of an author pays model either, and other solutions are necessary,  which seems to be the conclusion of the scholarly associations and the report.

Also, publishing contracts are changing:

“Copyright: In 2003, 83% of publishers required copyright transfer, in 2005, the figure stood at 61%. In 2008 this has dropped to 53%, and those which only require a license to publish have increased from 17% to 20.8%.”

The report also found that the number of academic journals has been steadily increasing, along with the amount of peer reviewed research. While the climate is changing, it is still growing.

Why are researchers publishing in these big reputable journals not taking the OA option? For one, the report shows that average prices to publish are extremely high:

“If print costs are removed the publishing costs per page for these journals now average $360 or at an average article length of 19pp, author fees of $7,000. For the journal with the lowest publishing cost per page ($90) and an average article length of 25 pages, author fees could be set at $2,500 to provide full cost recovery on the peer-reviewed articles published. Since just 59% of this particular journal’s pages are peer-reviewed Open Access payments would still not sustain the journal.”

This is also perhaps why many OA advocates are promoting mandates at the institutional level. Getting the people funding research to mandate OA is a great strategy to making research accessible online.

Steven Harnad on self-archiving

I’ve never met the man, even though he teaches in Montreal, but if I was to put a face on his written voice, it would look something like this.

When the U.S. congress tried to pass a bill mandating the self-archiving of research, publishers bounded together to lobby against the bill. The American Anthropological Association signed on too.  The lobby group raised numerous arguments against self-archiving, and even claimed to speak on behalf of researchers – to which many have since argued it did not.

In response to Scott Jaschik’s article, “In Whose Interest?” (2006), Steven Harnad unleashes a powerful advocacy strategy:

“The AAA (and AAP and PSP and FASEB and STM and DC Principles Coalition) objections to the FRPAA proposal to mandate OA self-archiving (along with its counterpart proposals in Europe, the UK, Australia and elsewhere worldwide) are all completely predictable, have been aired many times before, and are empirically as well as logically so weak and flawed as to be decisively refutable.

But OA advocates cannot rest idle. Empirically and logically invalid arguments can nevertheless prevail if their proponents are (like the publishing lobby) well-funded and able to lobby widely and vigorously.

There are many more of us than there are in the publishing lobby, but the publishing lobby is fully united under its simple objective: to defeat self-archiving mandates, or, failing that, to make the embargo as long as possible.

OA advocates, in contrast, are not united, and our counter-arguments risk gallopping off in dozens of different directions, many of them just as invalid and untenable as the publishers’ arguments. So if I were the publisher lobby, I would try to divide and conquer, citing flawed pro-mandate or pro-OA or anti-publishing arguments as a camouflage, to disguise the weakness of the publishing lobby’s own flawed arguments.”

To achieve this, Harnad supports self-archiving with 8 points:

All objections to the FRPAA proposal to mandate OA self-archiving can be decisively answered:

(1) Open access has been empirically demonstrated to benefit research, researchers and hence the public that funds the research, by substantially increasing research usage and impact.

(2) There is no evidence to date that self-archiving has any negative effect on subscription revenue.

(3) With an immediate-deposit/optional-access (ID/OA) mandate, deposit must be immediate (upon acceptance for publication), not delayed; only the access-setting (Open Access vs. Closed Access) can be delayed (“embargoed”).

(4) In recognition of its benefits to research, 94% of journals already endorse immediate OA-setting; so the semi-automatic email-eprint request feature of the Institutional Repository software (allowing would-be users to email the author individually to request and receive the eprint by email) will only be needed for 6% of articles, to tide over any embargo interval.

(5) OA is optimal for research and immediately reachable via self-archiving mandates right now; publishing models can and will adapt, if and when it should ever become necessary.

(6) In response to attempts to delay and filibuster the adoption of the self-archiving mandate by calling for more “empirical studies to test for its likely impact”: mandating self-archiving is itself the empirical test; the impact of the mandate can be reviewed annually to see what other effects it may be having — apart from the positive effects evidence has already shown self-archiving to have.

(7) The way to answer any suggestion that it is unfair to put publisher revenues at potential risk for the sake of general public access to a literature most of which none of the general public is ever likely to want to read is to note that OA is intended for the sake of the public benefits of the research that the public funds, which are maximized by making research maximally available to the users for whom it is mostly written, namely, researchers, so they can use and apply it in further research and applications, as intended, for the benefit of the public that funded it. (It will be publicly accessible to everyone else too, but only as a secondary benefit, not the primary rationale for OA, which is free access to publicly funded research, for researcher use, for public benefit.)

(8) All evidence indicates that voluntarism, invitations, etc. simply do not work to generate self-archiving, whereas mandates do.

(Harnad 2006)

Open Access and the AAA – more notes.

In his article, “Open Access or Faux Access” (2008), Scott Jaschik writes:

“The anthropology association has been divided for years over open access — the view that research findings should be online and free. Many rank-and-file anthropologists embrace the idea, seeing it as a way to most effectively communicate without imposing huge financial burdens on their libraries. But the association relies on revenue from subscriptions to its journals and has resisted repeated pushes from its own members to move in the direction of open access.

These tensions are not unique to anthropology, but the discipline has seen more than its share of flare-ups over the the issue, with pro-access scholars horrified that their association lobbied against open access legislation in Congress and that the scholarly society replaced a university press as its publishing agent with a for-profit publisher.”

Nice to see links making their way into articles. Jaschik’s article discusses the move by the American Anthropological Association to make material in two of its journals available free of charge, after a 35 year period. This way the journals continue to earn subscription revenue as academics require the latest research, but at least it eventually makes its way out.

Of course, such a version of Open Access was heavily rebutted in the blogsphere – and Jaschik’s article integrates many of the juiciest criticisms, some saying that the AAA was diluting the concept of Open Access.

Alex Golub argues that this would never have happened without public criticism of the American Anthropological Association by Open Access advocates, stressing the value of vocal bloggers even further:

“At the same time, he [Alex Golub] said that [the] association was way behind where it should be — and where many members have been pushing it to go. “This decision clearly represents the success of the OA community’s decision to hold the AAA accountable, in public, for its actions,” he wrote. “I honestly do not think this decision would have been made if the OA community had not called out the AAA and demanded to know what the hell it thought it was doing.”

It is interesting that blogs provided so much insight for Jaschik’s article, showing how blog discussions are rich sources, and as Golub argued, effective means of advocacy and change. (no shit you say? hey i’m working on a thesis – I’m learning how to state the obvious. deal with it :).


Scott Jaschik (2008)

“Open Access or Faux Access”

omgwtf!!! After integrating links, and comments into its online profile, Inside Higher Ed. does not support the Zotero bibliography manager! I can’t just click and add this article to my bibliography? F.A.I.L.

Also interesting, a commentor correctly states that “Open Access” is not the same as “Open Source”. No matter how much peer review we have, it’s impossible to get people to use the same definitions!

Concordia Library and searching for OA.

Strolling through various journal articles I’ve tagged, I noticed Concordia Library has placed an “Open Access” resources link on its list of databases page. It links to the OAIster search engine.

After helping a teacher archive their work on the Mana’o Anthropology Archive, I thought I would test out how well self-archiving in a repository works for an anthropologist. Unfortunately OAIster cannot find the article hosted on Mana’o…

This is not to say Mana’o is doing something wrong, just that we obviously need to do a lot more to make this stuff accessible!

OA publishing in anthropology – some more notes.

Unresolved oppositions –

Alex Golub arguing toll-access publishing model is broken:

“If you think that making money by giving away content is a bad idea, you should see what happens when the AAA tries to make money selling it. To put it kindly, our reader-pays model has never worked very well. Getting over our misconceptions about open access requires getting over misconceptions of the success of our existing publishing program. The choice we are facing is not that of an unworkable ideal versus a working system. It is the choice between a future system which may work and an existing system which we know does not.”

(Golub 2007:6)

Stacy Lathrop arguing the system isn’t broken:

“Reading through old AAA Bulletins, Newsletters and Reports, a reader quickly discovers that at times when the AAA has reached bumpy finances, decisions were made by the executive board to assure publications are sustainable.”

(Lathrop 2007:7)

Stacy Lathrop on the extra costs many OA advocates ignore:

“Beyond that, an electronic publishing program should account for costs to market its electronic journals, for training users to use the new means of production, and for responding to users’ questions, problems and needs.”

(Lathrop 2007:7)

This point really caught my attention – what kind of marketing does the AAA do for its journals? In the survey of students I held last year, students were only aware of a few key journals. Online, well… AnthroSource champions all the AAA journals?

I imagine there is a market of librarians to which most journals try to target with whatever marketing budget they have – going for subscription income. Any editors care to share how they allocate their marketing budget, and perhaps share numbers? ie: how much is spent marketing?

My own gut reaction:

I don’t think “anthropology” as a whole is very good at marketing anthropology, aside to itself.  Part of my thesis was motivated from my life in the grad program, constantly explaining to my friends and acquaintances what anthropology is, and isn’t.

But perhaps the AAA publishing program is sustainable – but just barely. And in this rough environment the change to OA is seen as being too risky. But why aren’t they at least promoting self-archiving? Or turning Anthro Source into a real community driven site? (As Alex Golub and others have been pushing for).

Stacy Lathrop. 2007. “Friends, Why Are We Sinking?.”

Alex Golub. 2007. “With a Business Model Like This, Who Needs Enemies?.”

Anthropology and open access

As the open access debate creeps into journal articles, having been a hot topic for a number of years now, we begin to see how scholarship likes to make things more complex and perhaps more confusing than need be. One big confusion is the way anthropologists are interpreting “open access publishing” and the “open access movement” in new ways.

“Open access publishing” refers to making published material freely accessible on the internet. It was not meant to refer to making “any information” freely accessible on the internet. It is about taking things that would normally require payment to access, and to removing that barrier.

The point here is that there have always been ethical issues involved in creating and disseminating ideas – and these issues are not new to the Open Access movement – they tie in to publishing in general.

Ethical discussions as to what information should be shared are at the heart of anthropology, but I think we should be careful not to overly complicate the term “Open Access”.  Ie: one question is “should it be published at all”, while the other asks “now that I want to share it, how can I make sure the people I want to read it see it”.

Does information want to be free? (and who pioneered this phrase?) -> Yes, because in the sense used in the open access movement the information has been shared openly already, but is restricted by a price-barrier which results in no one reading it.

Does this refer to all information? Hell no. It never did! Should we admit we are making very little progress in our thesis on a blog where ones supervisor can read it? Probably not! The open access movement is not asking people to share every secret. It is trying to make the stuff we decide to share more accessible.

Check out Peter Suber’s “open access overview” page:


Open access is not synonymous with universal access.

  • Even after OA has been achieved, at least four kinds of access barrier might remain in place:
    1. Filtering and censorship barriers. Many schools, employers, and governments want to limit what you can see.
    2. Language barriers. Most online literature is in English, or just one language, and machine translation is very weak.
    3. Handicap access barriers. Most web sites are not yet as accessible to handicapped users as they should be.
    4. Connectivity barriers. The digital divide keeps billions of people, including millions of serious scholars, offline.
  • Even if we want to remove these four additional barriers (and most of us do), there’s no reason to hold off using the term “open access” until we’ve succeeded. Removing price and permission barriers is a significant plateau worth recognizing with a special name.”

What anthropologists can add is that along with schools, governments, and employers, there are numerous individual and cultural reasons for maintaining access barriers to information.

[universal != open]

notes from copyright reform presentation

Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation about copyright reform in the context of education in Canada.  I was a few minutes late and unfortunately missed most of the organizers names. I recognized Olivier Charboneau however, after having had spoken with him about open access publishing last year. Reading yesterdays post again, I realize the other speaker was Ben Lewis.  First off, I really appreciated the talk and hope for more.

Key issues:

  • Copyright law is confusing. Not many know what is legal and what isn’t.
  • Copyright law is not the same in Canada and the U.S.   Ie. legalities over showing copyright films in classrooms. Argued that in U.S. it is okay, but in Canada it is not.
  • Corporate lobby groups are working hard to change copyright law in their favor – but there is very little public consultation.  The Canadian Federation of Students is holding public talks/presentations to open up the dialog and to bring educational needs to the forefront of any future copyright legislation.
  • Pooling resources to access information.  Charbonneau discussed the Library as being a kind of union, which goes out and negotiates access to information on behalf of its users. Last summer librarians across Canada banded together to spend 100 million on digital materials. By banding together they have more leverage to negotiate access/cost. More clout to build digital markets.
  • Issue of academic freedom. Librarians don’t want to impose, or interfere with a teachers right to chose reading materials. Charbonneau very much supported the right of a teacher to assign a $150 text book, but he did balance this by stating the library does advocate, and suggest, alternatives.
  • The Concordia Self-Archiving Repository will be available “soon”. There are challenges involved in creating such a repository because it involves creating a usage policy between numerous academic departments.

As the presentation reached its finish, questions were posed to the audience, including a very controversial opinion poll: Do you support an internet media levy whereby all internet subscribers pay a fee ($5-$10) that gets paid to media companies to cover downloading?


This would require a way to track usage, and a way to split the revenue up fairly to artists. It was called “a truly Canadian perspective”. Sure, it is Canadian, but isn’t it also Bell Canada’s perspective?

Imagined Pro’s

Huge money pot is created to support artists.

More money to artists is a good thing.

Imagined Con’s

How do you monitor downloads? I got a hint that the plan would involve legalizing torrents and all – but I imagine Bell Canada has much bigger ideas. They want to be the only legitimate Itunes, offering specialized gateways to media. This is Bell’s way to become a government mandated Itunes. Bell would continue to “shape” traffic, killing torrents and other P2p applications, while offering a premium “fast lane” with access to selected copyright material.

If Canadian’s really wanted this, wouldn’t they subscribe to itunes? The fact is, they want to pirate it so they can stick it to the recording industry which has done nothing to fix its horrible image. The only thing with worse public relation policies than the recording industry, would be the US armies human terrain system. I buy all my movies, music, games online through media gateways like itunes, steam, etc. Would this levy work towards them too?

Why select material? There is no way a download structure could track copyright materials from around the world. Charbonneau argued that it might be possible, since already systems were in place to track the usage of essays in assigned course packs. Isn’t this exactly how Bell wants to provide tiered internet access. “Here, you paid your internet levy, now you have access to 5 course packs! Pick and choose your favorites.”Oh, you wanted access to live sports feeds? Sorry that is a different kind of copyright material. That costs $34.95 to access. Thanks.”

Some of my teachers claim they have never been paid for their essays being used in a course pack. Money is collected, but never paid to the authors. Where does it go?  Is money from course packs distributed fairly? Some teachers refuse to use course packs because they claim the system only benefits publishers and never the authors.  Now try doing this for ALL media… whoa… Okay I’m imagining this whole debate, since this was simply a question at the very end, and was not a topic discussed prior.

Canada couldn’t keep track of a gun registry, how will it fairly distribute revenue to artists??? I’m torn to scream “stay out of it government” and “government stop Bell Canada from shaping traffic”.  Clearly government policies are needed, but I can’t imagine how one could monitor downloads and get money to artists fairly.  I’m ranting again.

The big argument for having these talks was that copyright in Canada is confusing. Well in that case, can’t it simply be explained better? I found the presentation tried to create fog where there doesn’t need to be any. The presentation failed to demand, or even push open access or the Creative Commons. The reason for this was they felt “academic freedom” was equally important  (and perhaps it was meant more as a consultation than a presentation, so positions weren’t being crammed down anyones throat… it was an open talk to let others share their ideas too).

Charbonneau admitted that the library was working between numerous competing forces and that they had to “wiggle” around certain issues. Since the presentation was an attempt to motivate students to share their own perspectives on copyright reform, I’ll take a clearer stance –  since my job isn’t on the line.

STOP PUBLISHING IN CLOSED ACCESS JOURNALS AND [this battle cry has been screamed before, and perhaps we are well passed it having any consequence or meaning considering the importance of publishing in prestigious/established places.]


Okay so I avoid the entire question of music, art, creativity…by shouting at academic researchers, specifically those in anthropology,  whose livelihoods don’t depend on direct revenue from their work. So I am only touching on a tangent of what copyright reform involves.

Wouldn’t implementing a tracking system for copyright content also involve destroying whats left of anonymity online. Would users willingly allow media downloads to be tracked? How would they determine copyright when users download from international locations? Would downloads be restricted to a certain set of servers/trackers? How would media companies pay international copyright holders, or keep track of them? How would individual artists get paid, would they have to affiliate with the recording industry? Where would services like Itunes fit in?

In terms of education reform and copyright, I think the open access movement is doing a lot right.

In terms of making copyright intelligible, the Creative Commons is doing a lot right too.