Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More on the AAA decision to move AnthroSource to Wiley-Blackwell

Scott Jaschik, Publishing and Values, Inside Higher Ed, August 22, 2007.  Excerpt:

...Some object to the move from a university press [University of California Press] to a commercial entity and fear a lessening of commitment to important scholarship that may not make money. Others see this as a sign that the anthropology association — which has won praise for the online offerings of its journals — is taking a hard line against the open access movement embraced by many of its members (and the library world). Still others see the move as a sign that scholarly societies are facing tough decisions about their missions — without good mechanisms for involving the academic rank and file in making decisions....

Adding to the situation is that the anthropology association has been extremely tight-lipped about its plans (ditto Wiley-Blackwell) so many of those concerned don’t know the details of the deal. An association spokesman said Tuesday that no one would agree to talk about what was going on, and he reiterated that view when told many members were complaining about a lack of information. Late Tuesday, Bill Davis, executive director of the association, did return a call, but only to say that he would not respond to criticisms of the move until the deal with Wiley-Blackwell is finalized. To those arguing that more anthropologists should have been involved in the decision, he said that the board voted to proceed with Wiley-Blackwell only after months of discussions and an RFP process and that “the board is authorized to make decisions like this.”

A number of outside observers believe that the tensions visible in anthropology this week are challenging other disciplines, too. “At the most fundamental level, we’ve got a lot of these scholarly societies facing a set of frankly difficult decisions,” said Clifford A. Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, a collection of scholarly, computing and library groups. “They’ve got missions that often speak very broadly to disseminating and advancing knowledge in their discipline. They’ve got a membership that in some disciplines is increasingly convinced that the way to do that is more openness in publication and more innovation in publication, but these societies have got sort of addicted to these revenue streams from their publication programs over the last few decades, and are trying to figure out if they want to make the transition to a new model and — if so — how do they navigate the transition.”

Scholars face “fundamental choices” about their journals (a key tool of scholarship) and their societies (the way they meet and speak as a whole), Lynch said. “One of the first things you need to talk about is what are the priorities in a scholarly communications program being run out of the society. Is the priority broadest dissemination, meaning open access? Is the primary goal revenue? Or is the priority really innovation in modes of scholarly communication, which may take you to a very different place than open access?” ...

But because journal revenue — either individually or through AnthroSource — has been a key part of the association’s budget, it sided last year with publishers’ groups in opposing legislation in Congress that would have required research backed by federal funds to be made available online and free, six months after publication elsewhere. Many anthropologists — who view sharing their research as directly related to their discipline’s calling of sharing knowledge about different groups of people — were enthusiastic about the legislation and were stunned and angry to find their association coming out against it....

The image of locked-up research is something that troubles many observers of the publishing scene. Christine L. Borgman is a professor of information studies at the University of California at Los Angeles and author of Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet, to be published in October by MIT Press. She is also on the editorial board of a journal published by Wiley-Blackwell, The Journal of the American Society for Information Science.

That editorial board, she said, has been pushing Wiley to liberalize its author agreements, so that authors have more leeway to place their papers in online repositories. Currently, they have wide access to place their writings on their own Web sites, but limits elsewhere. Borgman said this model no longer makes sense competitively. More and more scholars, she said, “want repository-friendly journals” and won’t publish in places they don’t view as committed to some measure of open access. Why publish in a journal that is closed off, she said, when you can be in a journal where more people will find your research?

Borgman said that the journal’s editorial board is still waiting for a response from the publisher.

Librarians are also judging journals by their approach on these issues. “I would be worried as an author: Is anybody going to be able to read my material? If the bulk of material is available, but your stuff is in journals that are locked up and only available to people with a library that can afford it, do you want to publish there?” asked Suzanne Calpestri, director of the anthropology library at the University of California at Berkeley....

Lynch, of the Coalition for Networked Information, said...“The innovation side of this is particularly tough,” he said, and much more difficult financially than just going open access and putting basic articles online. “When you start thinking not only about can we go digital in our publishing because it makes it easier to get worldwide access, but because it may allow us to publish different kinds of things, exploring a richer palette of scholarly communication and bringing in primary data and visual materials, that takes capital,” he said. “It takes human capital. It takes financial capital. It takes technical capital. And a lot of these societies don’t have it and don’t have access to it, which is why some of them feel they have to go off to large players,” he said....

Jason Baird Jackson, associate professor of folklore at Indiana University at Bloomington and editor of the journal Museum Anthropology (which is part of the anthropology association’s collection), said he viewed the concern as not so much about dues but about the discipline’s values. “Our work is engaged with the world, and we convey things we’ve learned, and the idea that those communities [that anthropologists study] would have needlessly high barriers to accessing the fruits of the collaboration — that’s what’s driving these discussions.” (Jackson stressed that he was speaking for himself and not his journal or the association.)

Jackson, who said he believes scholarly associations should be exploring open access models, said that one of his concerns about the debate is that so few of his fellow anthropologists feel that they know what is going on....

One anthropologist who asked not to be identified said that the open access and publishing debates have shined light on problems for the association and the discipline. Traditionally, he said, the “big issues” confronting the association (what stance to take on the Vietnam or Iraq wars, for example) have been debated by members at open meetings, while the business decisions have been made, largely out of view and without much member interest, by association staff. Open access is an issue that “connects anthropological ethics with our scholarly institution’s bottom line, and many of us are learning for the first time” that they aren’t controlling decisions made on their behalf. Editors, he said, “are concerned but in the dark.”

This anthropologist continued: “Will Wiley-Blackwell transform our publications program into a money making machine with generous use rights for our content? Will it run them into the ground? We simply have absolutely no idea. Regardless of the consequences — and I’m not optimistic — this represents a failure of the AAA to make decisions in a transparent and rational way. Until we learn how to do that, we have bigger fish to fry than open access.”

Update.  See the comments by Sandy Thatcher and Stevan Harnad.  (Sorry, IHE doesn’t support deep links for comments.)  Stevan points out that Wiley-Blackwell is green on self-archiving.