On Friday, I attended a talk by Jon Becker entitled Publishing 2.0: Open access, digital scholarship, and public intellectualism. He is an assistant professor in School of Education here at VCU and is an outstanding tweeter. Dr. Becker researches academic publishing on the web and in other non-traditional mediums, and his research area made for a provocative talk.
Dr. Becker asked why should we think differently about open access publishing. Although scholarship can be defined broadly, the talk focused on knowledge dissemination and scholarly communication. The University of California claims that “[t]he current model of scholarly communication has become economically unsustainable, restrictive, and increasing limited in its ability to make information accessible.” Many universities are creating open access repositories, where faculty can submit their work (books, monographs, technical reports, digital works) to be disseminated openly and freely to the public. Dr. Becker focused on peer-reviewed research publication possibilities that are open access or publicly available (unlike closed journal publications and other forms of publications that have a cost or subscription).
According to Dr. Becker, arguments for open access publishing include:
- Economics (VCU subscribes to 284 journals that cost more than $3000 per year. I serve on the library committee here at VCU and can attest that most of the libraries budget goes toward journal subscriptions).
- Restricted access (Only certain people can have access, usually those on a university computer)
- Legal obligation (Researchers make work to be shared with everyone, but then we publish our work in mediums that hide it in a restricted database).
- Betterment of society (via improved access to scholarly work).
- Affordances of HTML (Journal publications, for example, have formatting restrictions that can degrade the quality of figures if they are rescaled and converted to grayscale. However, technical writing is not best visualized in HTML, as anyone who has read a “full text” article can attest to.)
- Time (Publishing is becoming easier and easier, and blogs can be quickly turned into book. Hacking the Academy created a published volume of work in a short period of time. A traditional journal article can take years to appear in print.)
- Moral obligation (Should we be interacting with everyone or only those who can access our journal articles?)
There are downsides to adopting an open access format, although the talk focused on the upsides to challenge us in what we know (or think we know) about open access publishing. As a result, I only included the upsides here.
Open access resources include:
- Directory of open access repositories
- Directory of open access journals
- BioMed Central
- Jon Becker’s links on delicious
Dr. Becker introduced networked participatory scholarship (NPS), which includes the use of social networking and other online communication that creates scholarly work. I find it hard to believe that promotion and tenure committees are open to NPS, but many universities are creating NPS spaces for faculty to do scholarly work (such as the CUNY Academic commons, UMW blogs, Future of Education, etc.). Researchers such as Bruce Baker and Justin Bathon are leading the way in the education domain. I suspect that Greg Mankiw and Tyler Cowen are doing the same for economics (although Greg Mankiw’s blog is closed to comments, so it isn’t exactly peer-reviewed) and that Aurelie Thiele is doing the same for engineering education.
There are some new issues for authors when publishing in open access journals or NPS forums:
- Managing your intellectual property when journals no longer hold the copyright to your work.
- Use alternative forms of publishing (start by publishing in open access journals and participate in UC/Springer Open Access Pilot)
- Support sustainable scholarly communication (support new business models and experiment with publishing best practices)
- Comply with NIH public access mandate
I am not sure if I am ready to fully jump onto the open access bandwagon, but since I already have a blog and wrote a book chapter that was published on lulu, maybe I already have. If you leave a comment on this blog, you are participating in a type of peer-review process that is arguably more transparent than the peer-review process in journals. But that sounds strange to me, so I know I’m still adjusting to that idea. There are many professors who post their technical reports and seminar slides on their web site. I seem to recall some P=NP proofs that were made available publicly for review prior to publication. They were widely reviewed, and the reviews seemed as valuable–if not more so–than the peer review process (but only because many are eager to review a P=NP proof). While these professors and authors who share their work openly aren’t revolutionaries, they are sharing their work with a wide audience.
What will it take for scholarly communication to adopt an open access model? The first wave seems to have already occurred. There are several open access medical journals that are well-respected. Economics might be a motivating factor, since universities have faced budget cuts in the last few years and as the stimulus money runs out in the next academic year. What do you think could result in a second wave of more widespread acceptance?
Have you published in an open access journal? Do you take part in networked participatory scholarship?
October 18th, 2010 at 1:41 pm
I just rotated off our university library committee, so I’ve seen the same sort of cost statistics you have, and have been engaged in discussions about open source publishing. At least two significant impediments to open source came up in those discussions.
First, quite a few top-tier and second-tier journals originate with or are sponsored by professional societies. Those societies receive compensation from the publishers, so it will be difficult convincing them to move to an open source model.
Second, rightly or wrongly, the perception of journal quality is tied to the number of “distinguished” names among its editorial staff and advisory board. The fact that those people frequently do few if any actual reviews is routinely ignored. In some cases, publishing houses compensated editors (and maybe editorial/advisory board members) for the journals they publish, which creates a financial disincentive to those people lending their names to open source journals.
I second the concerns you expressed about limited access to published research (particularly for people who do not have access to well-funded university libraries), but as long as academic units want to see their faculty publish in “top tier” journals, I foresee slow adoption of open source outlets.
October 18th, 2010 at 1:50 pm
Paul, Thank you for your response. The talk was definitely pro-open access, and those of us in attendance hadn’t given thoughts to the obstacles to more open publishing formats. They are obviously there, since we would be more open otherwise. Thank you for providing some insight!
October 28th, 2010 at 9:41 pm
Thanks for writing about this topic, Laura.
Another important Open Access option is hybrid journals that allow an author to pay a fee so that their one article is open access even though the rest of the journal is subscription only. Many grant writers are putting the cost of the author fees into their grant budgets and some universities are picking up the authors fees if there research is not grant funded.
This has caught on with a number of mainstream publishers, like Wiley, Oxford, Springer, Cambridge, BMJ, Taylor & Francis, American Chemical Society and others–a short list is on my web page at
To find hybrid journals by topic, see the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) author search page at
I hope this helps!
Dan Ream, VCU Libraries
P.S. Thanks for noting my CTE podcast on Open Access too!