Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, April 27, 2009

Editorial on the Maryland faculty vote

If you recall, last week the University of Maryland University Senate voted down a mixed green/gold OA policy

Here's an editorial from the UMaryland student paper in response:  Free at last, free at last, Diamondback Online, April 27, 2009.  Excerpt:

...[W]here the RIAA saw thousands of binary pirates, Apple saw thousands of people looking to get their music via the Internet. In 2003, the company launched the iTunes Music Store; three short years later, the digital store now known just as iTunes sold its billionth song.

The university is trying to find the right perspective on free online scholarly journals, and right now, most faculty seem to be more Metallica than Steve Jobs. Last Thursday, the University Senate voted down a resolution encouraging faculty members to post their research in free online journals.

Administrators who supported the measure framed the debate in financial terms, seeing online journals as a means to resolve library budgetary problems. If our faculty members provide free online access to their research, the library doesn't have to subscribe to as many costly journals. Faculty members primarily saw the resolution as a threat to academic freedom, a roadblock to prestige and a measure that would disproportionately harm certain disciplines. Their concerns aren't baseless; publishing in some journals is more prestigious, and being published in selective journals is important for career advancement. But ultimately, both sides are missing the real opportunity.

In 2004, Kristin Antelman, the Associate Director for Information Technology for the Digital Library at North Carolina State University,...found that being posted [free] online enormously increases the number of citations of a given article, ranging from a 45 percent increase in philosophy to a 91 percent increase in mathematics....

The transition to publishing academic research in free online journals may not yet be a done deal, but the shift has begun. This February, Harvard University's arts and sciences faculty voted to adopt a system in which every research article would instantly be made available online free of charge unless a faculty member specifically requested otherwise. You're still doubtful that making articles available in online journals makes them more influential? We found Antelman's article because it was available online free of charge, and we just reprinted her findings 16,000 times.

Comment.  The editorial is right to criticize the Senate vote and point out that OA articles are cited more often than non-OA articles.  (Antelman's study was not the first to show this effect, which has been confirmed by many other studies.)  But the editorial makes one of the same mistakes as the Senate it criticizes:  overlooking green OA (through repositories) in order to focus on gold OA (through journals).  The Senate resolution would have encouraged both, but the editorial only mentions the gold OA provision.  Most faculty opposition, likewise, seems to have focused on the gold OA provision.  (See my comments on the vote.)  In summarizing the Harvard policy, the editorial leaves the false impression that it too focuses more on gold OA than green OA ("The transition to publishing academic research in free online journals may not yet be a done deal, but the shift has begun....")  But the reverse is true.  The Harvard policy focuses on green OA more than gold OA.  It's about depositing peer-reviewed journal articles in OA repositories even when they were not published in OA journals.  I suspect there would have been less contention at the Maryland Senate meeting, and fewer negative votes, if the proposal had been closer to Harvard's green OA policy and if faculty had understood that it is entirely compatible with the freedom to submit work to the journals of one's choice.