Feminist Philosophers

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Open access: be careful what you wish for December 5, 2012

Filed under: academia — Jender @ 9:49 pm

The UK is moving rapidly toward an open access model for journal publications, planning to require it for REF 2020. Sounds good, right? Information should be freely available to all, shouldn’t it? Well, yes. But the way this is being done is really worrying. It looks like the plan is to charge hefty sums to authors.

Academic freedom is compromised by a ‘pay-to-say’ system, because institutions and academics will have to bid for the funds to publish their work. This means for academics that unless they are rich enough to pay for the publication of their own research, they will have to convince non-expert committees of the value of pre-published work, and compete against other University colleagues for funds. They will be restricted as to what they can publish and where. It is clear that Institutional Publication Committees will have to ration funds in line with pressures for REF and impact, meaning that lots of potentially valuable work will go unfunded.

This approach also assumes that such funds are available in-house; for the majority of cash-strapped universities they will not be, meaning that many of their academics may simply not be able to publish at all in the journals of their choice. Additionally, many non-UK journals may not be Open-Access compliant, preventing UK academics from publishing in them. UK journals will also be under pressure to select research according to whether APCs can be paid, instead of simply taking the best quality research. Overall, a ‘pay-to-say’ system undermines the core principle that expert peer review is the primary filter for publishing in academic journal….

Under the ‘pay-to-say’ system, it is the wealthiest, rather than the best, individuals and institutions who will be able to dominate publishing. This poses serious problems for the overall quality of research output, which is currently underpinned by the principle that the best research emerges on its own academic merit. This will become more deeply entrenched as subsequent rounds of the REF become geared towards the ‘pay-to-say’ model.

More substantially, it poses enormous problems for the academic ‘poor’ – the early career researchers writing PhDs, retired academics, independent scholars, NGO researchers, and anybody at an institution without the inclination to pay for their research. This will suppress the development of academic talent in the long run, suppress the publication of the excellent work that emerges post-retirement, and suppress the work of any scholars outside identified ‘research-intensive’ institutions. This will entrench a plutocracy rather than a meritocracy in the publication of academic research.

(Thanks, A!)

 

17 Responses to “Open access: be careful what you wish for”

  1. Carl Says:

    This objection doesn’t seem that well thought out to me. The current system is already hugely titled towards the rich. Who can afford to go to grad school unless you have rich parents to pay for emergencies and rent deposits? Who can afford to pay $40 dollars to read a single article? “Pay to say” would be a neutral move if it were the only kind of publishing around: not making the problem better, not making it worse.

    However, pay to say is not the only model around. Look at this blog. It’s free to readers and free to the authors as well. There are plenty of open access journals that are doubly free. If a few journals that are high in prestige want to be pay to say so they can keep their servers running longer, good for them. There will still be a million other places for a new academic to get published for free. If journals become dominated by the rich instead of dominated by the wise or interesting then no be will read those journals. If no one reads them, they won’t be prestigious, and if they aren’t prestigious they will no longer be able to charge for publication.

  2. J. W. ,f Says:

    Thanks for this post, very informative. It’s frightening to here that the ‘poor’ academics – or perhaps, those that weren’t born into rich family’s and destined to me university professors – are facing such a challenge in the publication of their work.

    As an undergraduate, I would have thought there would already be some bias towards richer institutions, such as Oxford and Cambridge’s academics, as their research is more likely to have higher funding then other institutions, and therefore, it may be seen as higher quality. Not to mention the influence of richer institutions’ current professors and Doctors. I’m sure academic journals etc. are more liable to put their trust in the TOP professors from the TOP institutions… I’m not too sure.

  3. J. W. Ford Says:

    J. W. ,f Says:
    December 5, 2012 at 11:04 pm
    Thanks for this post, very informative. It’s frightening to here that the ‘poor’ academics – or perhaps, those that weren’t born into rich family’s and destined to me university professors – are facing such a challenge in the publication of their work.

    As an undergraduate, I would have thought there would already be some bias towards richer institutions, such as Oxford and Cambridge’s academics, as their research is more likely to have higher funding then other institutions, and therefore, it may be seen as higher quality. Not to mention the influence of richer institutions’ current professors and Doctors. I’m sure academic journals etc. are more liable to put their trust in the TOP professors from the TOP institutions… I’m not too sure.

  4. Kathryn J. Norlock Says:

    The post is interesting and certainly raises issues worth considering. However, why is it taken to be obvious that the government block grants to institutions to cover “pay to say” publication won’t be sufficient to the costs? Or is it that the block grants will be enough for the institutionally affiliated, but this will privilege them over the non-affiliated? And if the latter, then why isn’t it just as good to publish in the “Green” publications?

    Fascinating stuff, but not clear from across the pond.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    This whole thing is a disaster! And Kathryn, what we’re being told at our institution is that the money we’ll get for this will basically be eaten up by the sciences, with nothing left over for us poor arts and humanities.

    It’s also worth pointing out, though, that this isn’t a done deal. The policy is obviously really ill-thought out, and powerful players like OUP aren’t going to want this. I think we need to do everything we can to make our universities fight against this. Of course the same was true of the even more disastrous ‘impact agenda’, and we still got saddled with it, but it’s worth a shot.

    And to the earlier commenters. I was born into a working class background: I got to go to grad school because I was good at my subject and worked hard and got a grant to do so – just like the people who are now my grad students did. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, please be quiet.

  6. Bijan Parsia Says:

    It is, indeed, a scam. Whether it’s a worse scam than pay to read is hard to say (say-half-open access is still quite new; otoh, the incentives to publish whatever are much higher with paysay than payread…I get a hell of a lot more unsolicited manuscript requests from paysay vendors).

    It would be nice to just break the system. Most of the key work in most journals/venues is undirectlypaid academic labor anyway (reviewing, editing, etc.). There’s no need for physical copies (except perhaps as print on demand for people who don’t want to print for themselves). The publishers are primarily just rentiers and rather obnoxious ones.

    That being said, quite obviously, some sort of institution subscription for publishing (a la we have for reading) is the only thing (in the general framework) which will make it viable for early and poor researchers. It’s not precisely equal in that the costs to say are typically much harder to read for one off papers (e.g., hundreds vs. tens) and one way to bootstrap yourself to a better position is to publish. So, even if we just swap what institutions get for what we pay, it’s probably a net negative for academics.

  7. L.J. Says:

    It seems to me that it’s not just “poor institutions” that we need to worry about, but also dynamics within institutions. How are funds for publication allocated within an institution? Can Chair X give more funds to Professor Y than Z? On what grounds? Interesting and scary questions of academic freedom are raised by this proposal.

  8. :) Says:

    It is absolute bull that only the rich get a PhD in philosophy. Although I think philosophers tend to skew toward the middle class or upper middle class (I was certainly the poorest, by far, in my cohort and now among the faculty of my department) but even I don’t have to pay anything to read individual articles (who does that?).

    As far as I see it these new costs will either:

    1) have to be paid by individual philosophers
    2) be paid by universities

    The first option clearly (and uniquely) favors the better off and established philosophers among us. The unfairness of that should be obvious. If it is the second option then it is likely that the funds universities use to pay for this kind of open-access will be diverted from other funds. That doesn’t sound like such a hot option either.

  9. Bijan Parsia Says:

    even I don’t have to pay anything to read individual articles (who does that?).

    It depends on the subscription packet your library has. I’ve very occasionally had to purchase an article (or a book). This gets more true at smaller institutions. Weirdly enough electronic holdings can make it worse, since interlibrary loan (or going to a nearby library) doesn’t generally work for them.

    For the new costs, the general feel (as I understand it) is to have the universities switch from paying to read to paying to publish. So there might be an increase, but the extra cost shouldn’t be TOO bad (and for many fields will be subsidized by funding agencies).

    Still not brilliant.

  10. Alison Stone Says:

    Writing from within the UK, my understanding is that the general practice will be that universities pay the costs, not individuals. I suppose if a university couldn’t cover it, a rich individual might be able to, but as far as I know no-one’s really exercised about that. The problem is that universities are going to have to set up funds to cover these article processing charges, which will be administered internally to each university, the worry being in ways that favour the sciences (or generally high-impact fields) and that favour better-known, more senior (etc.) academics over the others. Thus, some people may effectively be prevented from being able to publish.
    Kathryn, when you say why won’t the government ‘block grant’ cover this – I’m not sure what block grant you mean? There is so-called QR funding, which is allocated based on how well departments and institutions do in the Research Excellence Framework, and which will be heavily skewed to those scoring 4*s (the top grade), which is likely to correlate fairly closely with the richest institutions anyway. But the money that comes out of this really isn’t much. Even so I’m sure some of the money will help with these charges, and presumably money can be moved across from library budgets. But no new funding has been allocated by the government specifically to cover these article processing charges. Well I say that – the government did make a small amount of money available to 30 universities to aid the transition, but below the top 5 on that list it was very little money indeed (a few thousand pounds apiece, I seem to remember).
    I really think this development is a disaster in the making and moreover, has been introduced without any consultation.

  11. Kathryn J. Norlock Says:

    Thanks, Alison Stone, for providing clarifying thoughts. I actually was having quite a bit of trouble following these developments, and I’m keen to follow them given how much interest I have in Open Access journals. I first noticed block grants referred to in the comments on the page linked to in the OP, then followed links to the policy statement here:
    http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/research/Pages/outputs.aspx

    where, under “Further Guidance on the Policy,” it says the following:

    “In order to help the implementation of the policy, the Research Councils are introducing from April 2013 a new funding mechanism – a block grant to universities and eligible research organisations to cover the cost of article processing charges (APCs). Further information about the block grant can be found in the announcement and in the spreadsheet PDF 90KB which shows the distribution of block grants by research organisation.” The word ‘announcement’ in the last sentence is hyperlinked to the document,

    http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/media/news/2012news/Pages/121108.aspx

    “RCUK announces block grants for universities to aid drives to open access.” But I don’t know if that’s the “QR” funding you mention.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    The block grants are not the same as the QR funding. This is additional money from the research councils for the purposes of funding open access publication. But as I said above, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what it will actually cost universities, and at our institution at least it looks like it’s simply going to be eaten up STEM subjects, and arts and humanities will just have to do what they can on their own.

  13. Alison Stone Says:

    Kathryn, thanks for the links. But looking at the grant to my institution – Lancaster – (very low down the list, presumably because we don’t have so much work in STEM subjects) – the grant will cover the cost of around 100 journal articles each year (in the two years covered). I should think we produce that many articles a year in my department alone, never mind the whole university! Mind you, of course, not necessarily in open-access journals…but then, if the REF is going to be based on articles in open-access compliant outlets, then we’ll have to be more and more focused on those!

  14. Cora Diamond Says:

    It isn’t clear that ‘pay to publish’ lowers library costs, if libraries are still paying to make available back issues of journals. The only way they could save that money is by not paying the subscription fees covering back issues — which would have very bad effects on research, especially in the humanities.

  15. One way to resist this — everywhere — is for as many of us as possible to start shifting our publications toward truly open access (i.e. free) on-line journals. If they gain in power and prestige the pressure will be against the pay-to-say model.

    Perhaps we could share names? One is the interdisciplinary “Studies in Social Justice”: http://ojs.uwindsor.ca/ojs/leddy/index.php/ssj That’s part of a burgeoning system of open access journals in Canada.

  16. [...] we’ve noted before, the UK government is adopting a very shortsighted policy of insisting that any research which was [...]

  17. curtrice Says:

    I think that ministries, research councils, universities and their libraries are all going to realize that if we go for the Gold model, that the “entry” fees have to be covered. 10 years ago, the fantasy was that a wholesale switch from traditional to OA publishing would free up money previously used on subscriptions to then use on “gold” models. But the publishers figured this out and have us over the barrel. I took a shot at a modest contribution to the discussion here, on the part about academic freedom: 4 ways open access enhances academic freedom http://bit.ly/14vdBDv


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