April 24, 2017 by Town Peterson
In the previous post, we argued that a scholarly world without open access (OA) inevitably excludes some researchers and scholars from the conversation. We were responding to a series of commentaries in Journal of Wildlife Management that made this point particularly clear, and evidently still in need of argument, going so far as to say that developing-world scholars should either invite richer colleagues as authors so that page charges can be paid, or wait a century for development to come to their countries. We disagree, and that was the subject of the post.
Peter Suber, Director of Harvard University’s Office of Scholarly Communication, commented on the post, requesting more information on our vision of an ideal, inclusive, barrier-free OA scholarly communications world. Here, we offer some preliminary thoughts, building on topics discussed in a recent symposium OA Beyond APCs. We have laid out these ideas in greater detail in a manuscript now submitted to Revue Français des Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication, in a forthcoming special issue about OA.
As we have argued in previous publications, it is clear that any need for payment in the scholarly communications process will exclude significant sectors of the global research community. For example, subscription-based systems exclude less-prosperous scholars, who frequently cannot even manage sufficient access to read the literature relevant to their work. Similarly, the system based on article processing charges (APCs) favored by some sectors of the OA community excludes many scholars from authorship, however attractive the open reading may prove.
Of course, publishing high-quality academic journals is not free, so Suber’s question is appropriate, although unlikely to be answered in a single blog post. Suber writes,
Many approaches to OA have arisen in the global south, and thrive there. Many others arose in the north, but do not suffer from the paternalism you criticize. Do any of them meet your criteria? Do you have recommendations above and beyond the best efforts already in under way?
Honestly, we do not see any of the OA approaches being developed and promoted as fully addressing this challenge. We have presented arguments previously that an ideal solution is what can be termed “platinum” OA: journals that are open to readers and authors alike without cost or barrier. These journals can be funded via subsidy from interested entities (institutions, funders, or societies) that prioritize effective and open communication over financial gain, and that develop under collaborations in a cross-stakeholder model (e.g., university presses with scholarly societies, libraries with funders, nonprofit publishers with scholarly societies). We note, as have many others, that funds exist for a shift to platinum OA in the form of the massive subscription budgets that institutions have maintained to keep up with the rising costs of commercial, closed-access journals.
We see a key foundation to an OA system as the absence of any requirement that authors or readers or institutions pay on a per-article basis for participation in the system. The system should accommodate local contexts and structures, and be designed and implemented with input from stakeholder groups from across the globe. As an immediate step toward a platinum OA system, we strongly recommend a large-scale network analysis that would include all actors in the scholarly communications system: scholars, institutions, funders, nations, publishers, scholarly societies, and OA initiatives.
The result would be a network that can be analyzed to discover bottlenecks, redundancies, and synergies… such a documentation of the structure of the scholarly publishing system would provide an ideal platform on which to design and build more effective strategies for achieving an optimal OA system. Short-term steps forward would then use the network analysis to develop efficient coalitions and cooperatives for testing ideas that move the entire system forward, with regular international meetings of diverse groups to look at the larger global picture. A longer-term step would use lessons from these test efforts to build appropriate and equitable connections between regional scholarly communities and an overarching global system.
As was noted at the November symposium hosted in Kansas, considered action at the local level is much needed, even if “local” means by a single stakeholder or in small inter-stakeholder coalitions. We don’t see that any well-packaged solution exists or can be defined today that adequately addresses the complexity of the problem or even the base principles for a fully equitable and open system of scholarly communication. We see great need for ongoing communication and connection among diverse groups interested in this challenge. The process by which we build this system matters as much as the final outcomes. These ideas, once again, are treated in greater detail in a manuscript we have submitted for publication, and surely will be discussed in many venues in days, months, and years to come.
Marc L. Greenberg