• September 4, 2015

New Journals, Free Online, Let Scholars Speak Out

Open-Access Journals Break Barriers to Academic Freedom 1

Peter Searle for The Chronicle

John Willinsky, an education professor at Stanford U. (shown here visiting the U. of Oxford), offers free journal-publishing software to academics around the world. The program is being used to produce more than 5,000 online journals, he estimates, about half of them in developing countries.

He seems genial, but John Willinsky is a dangerous man.

As a leader in the development and spread of "open access" scholarly journals, which are published online and offered free, the Stanford University education professor is not just helping to transform academic publishing. He is also equipping scholars around the world with a tool to foment revolution.

"This is a strong vehicle for academic freedom," says Mr. Willinsky, whose Public Knowledge Project offers free journal-publishing software to academics. In a world where subscriptions to some medical journals can cost more than $10,000 a year, and many colleges in developing countries cannot afford more than a handful of scholarly publications, publishing enabled by this kind of tool is plugging many academics into research and discourse as never before.

For instance, a new journal based in Uganda recently published an article on a pressing problem in that country: post-traumatic stress disorder in child soldiers. Anyone around the world can conceivably read open-access journals dedicated to such controversial topics as ethnopolitics, international human rights, and queer studies.

Open-access academic publishing has its limitations and drawbacks. It can be blocked by Internet filters. Its low cost makes the publication of inferior and unreliable journals much easier. And, in rendering scholarship freely available to anyone who can go online, it increases the risk that research in fields such as medicine will fall into the hands of people who might misuse it.

Mr. Willinsky focuses on the upside. The software his project offers, called Open Journal Systems, has emerged as the most popular tool for posting peer-reviewed, scholarly journals online. He estimates that it is being used to produce more than 5,000 such journals, with roughly half coming out of developing countries where the cost of publishing them in print generally is prohibitive.

The Directory of Open Access Journals, maintained by the Lund University Libraries, in Sweden, lists more than 4,700 open-access scientific and scholarly journals that passed a screening for quality based on their publishers' assurances of peer review or editorial diligence. They cover the waterfront, with the sciences well-represented but other fields, such as history, linguistics, philosophy, and political science, each accounting for more than 100 publications.

Although a few hundred open-access journals are online versions of print publications, most "were born 'open access,' so they are new launches," observes Peter Suber, a research professor of philosophy at Earlham College who helped establish a Web site where advocates of the publishing method share information.

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, says he believes strongly enough in the ability of open-access publishing to promote academic freedom that it was the natural choice to produce the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, first published last month. "There was a synergistic relationship between the topic we were promoting and the method we were using to promote it," Mr. Nelson says. By posting the journal online rather than simply sending print copies to the association's members, he says, "we are making debates about academic freedom freely available to the entire profession."

Backing Rebels

Mr. Willinsky says he had given little thought to academic freedom when he established the Public Knowledge Project, in 1998, while a professor of literacy and technology at the University of British Columbia. He was more concerned with advancing people's "right to knowledge" internationally, a goal he sees embodied in a provision of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights guaranteeing all people the right "to share in scientific advancement and its benefits."

Then, in 2006, Mr. Willinsky became embroiled in a controversy which, he says, gave him a firsthand glimpse of open-access publishing's potential to advance academic freedom. A member of the editorial board of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, printed by the association's business arm, CMA Holdings, he found himself siding with the editors when they clashed with the business side over articles critical of pharmacists and Canada's new health minister.

He resigned from the board, along with 14 of its other 18 members, and helped several editors who had resigned or been fired set up a peer-reviewed, open-access journal, Open Medicine. To safeguard its independence, the editors refused two common sources of financial support for print medical journals: the sponsorship of professional associations, and advertisements by the manufacturers of drugs and medical devices.

In a 2007 article in the Canadian Journal of Communication, Mr. Willinsky joined three other founders of Open Medicine in recounting their experience. They argued that the editorial independence of scholarly journals is "a natural extension" of faculty members' academic freedom, which "depends on their work receiving a fair hearing and opportunity for wider circulation."

Noting how the women's-studies journals established in the 1970s gave people in that emerging field a forum to challenge prevailing ideas, the medical journal's founders expressed hope that open-access publishing similarly might give rise to new schools of thought.

Others who publish journals through open access say that it gives them flexibility and helps them immediately reach distant audiences. Joel R. Pruce, managing editor of Human Rights and Human Welfare, based at the University of Denver, says via e-mail that about 50 percent of visitors to that journal's Web site find it via online search engines, coming from all over the world.

"Our open-access, online format gets us to places we would otherwise find inaccessible," he says. "We publish as much as we want to when we want to, so we are unconstrained by page numbers and deadlines in the way others are."

Emerging Hazards

As a tool for promoting academic freedom, open-access publishing clearly has its pitfalls.

By making the products of research freely available to anyone, for example, it increases the risk that knowledge will fall into the hands of unintended audiences that could misuse it. Scholars might think of that possibility as a responsibility that goes along with the freedom to publish. In January 2007, after the journal Cancer Cell published a free online article saying that an inexpensive compound not yet approved for human use had shrunk tumors in laboratory animals, cancer patients and their loved ones began trying to obtain the substance from chemical suppliers and set up an online database to assist each other in self-medicating, Canada's Edmonton Journal reported.

By making it much cheaper and easier to produce academic journals and allowing scholars to place research that has not been peer-reviewed in universally accessible online repositories, open-access publishing can also make it easier to establish questionable publications and disseminate shoddy scholarship. Sanford G. Thatcher, executive editor for humanities and social sciences at the Penn State University Press and a former president of the Association of American University Presses, says the quality of open-access academic journals is "all over the map." Some, he suspects, are scams out to make money by charging scholars to publish their work.

Although open-access academic journals so far appear about as likely to be peer-reviewed as printed ones are, their quality is emerging as a concern as their numbers rise. Lars Björnshauge, director of libraries at Lund University, acknowledges in an e-mail message that the Directory of Open Access Journals bases its reviews of journals heavily on statements made by the journals' publishers, which it relies upon to be forthright. Last year, he says, the directory ended up culling about 100 journals from its list, mainly after determining that they had changed their business models.

Some of those journals were failing to comply with the requirement that they make all content freely available as soon as they publish it. But a bigger worry regarding the free flow of ideas is the filtering of Internet content by governments. The OpenNet Initiative, a collaborative involving scholars at Harvard University, the University of Toronto, and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, says that more than 40 nations filter the Internet to various degrees. Among them, several Middle Eastern nations block content for political or religious reasons, while China, Myanmar, and Vietnam sharply restrict access to information the governments do not want citizens to have.

"There is kind of an arms race going on," says Mr. Suber, of Earlham College. "The tools for censoring are getting better all the time, but the tools for evading that censorship are also getting better all the time."

Regardless of online filtering, it generally remains easier to distribute online scholarship than printed academic journals. In the Palestinian territories, for example, an online research repository at Birzeit University helps scholars cope with limits on their movement imposed by walls and checkpoints.

Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, a library membership group working to expand access to scholarly literature, says her organization works in several nations that filter the Internet. She says her group tries to make the case that the information made available through open-access journals is "a building block for all of us."

A Ladder Up

Mr. Willinsky's Public Knowledge Project is one of several nonprofit organizations working to promote open-access distribution of scholarship around the globe. Among others, Bioline International, a cooperative based in Toronto and Brazil, pulls together peer-reviewed bioscience journals coming out of developing countries such as Bangladesh and Ghana. The International Network for the Advancement of Scientific Publications, based in England, advises the creators of online journals around the world and has helped set up Web sites linking to online publications from Africa and several Asian nations. And the George Soros Foundation's pro-democracy Open Society Institute also has a program promoting open distribution of research. (Some nonprofit groups and print publishers also make printed journals available to colleges in developing nations free or at steeply discounted rates.)

Although some open-access academic journals finance themselves by charging scholars to publish their work, most do not, and many that do impose fees waive them for authors from developing nations.

By offering outlets to scholars who might have difficulty getting their work into established print journals, says Leslie Chan, a senior lecturer in new-media studies at the University of Toronto at Scarborough and associate director of Bioline International, "you are sort of leveling the playing field, letting the content of the research speak for itself."


1. jimtill - February 15, 2010 at 11:42 am

Re: "After the open-access journal Cancer Cell published an article in January 2007 ...". Cancer Cell is not an open-access journal, although articles in the archive of Cancer Cell are publicly accessible 12 months after publication. Thus, the article published in January 2007 is now publicly accessible, via: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ccr.2006.10.020

2. pschmidt - February 15, 2010 at 06:54 pm

Thank you, jimtill, for pointing out the incorrect reference to Cancer Cell as open-access. That language has now been deleted. I had been misinformed that Cancer Cell is an open-access publication and the ease with which I gained access to the article in question led me to fail to recognize the error. I have decided to nonetheless keep my own article's reference to the incident involving Cancer Cell as a cautionary tale of the hazards of making research freely available online. Although Cancer Cell did not make its article universally available online immediately, it did do so eventually, which led to the unauthorized attempts at self-medication described by the Edmonton Journal.--Peter Schmidt

3. gideonburton - February 16, 2010 at 01:50 pm

In being certain to provide his "cautionary tale of the hazards of making research freely available online," Schmidt parrots the rhetoric of religious authorities at the dawn of the print age, certain the moon would turn to blood if the priestly guardians of knowledge did not fully control the dissemination of knowledge: "By making the products of research freely available to anyone...it increases the risk that knowledge will fall into the hands of unintended audiences that could misuse it." Are we in the 21st century or the 15th? The digital media are effecting the same liberation of knowledge that print did four or five hundred years ago, with the same embarrassments to the establishment creating a need for conservatives to retrench with idiocy about people misusing knowledge. Should we put the Bible back into Latin while we are at it? You'd think academics would know better. Willinsky is the Martin Luther of our day, a revolutionary rather overdue in academia. We always think about academic freedom on the production end of knowledge, but today the great threat to academic freedom is on the publishing end. Our institutions insist upon knowledge being buried from sight (and therefore removed from much relevance beyond our ivory prisons) in the name of quality control. It is an outdated model that is as impractical as it is unethical. See my posts at AcademicEvolution.com on The Open Scholar (http://bit.ly/openscholar) and on how scholarship must transform (http://bit.ly/transformingscholarship).

4. pschmidt - February 16, 2010 at 03:09 pm

You make some good points, gideonburton. But in my industry, journalism, many people feel a responsibility not to widely publish certain information that might be misused at great societal cost, such as precise, detailed accounts of how someone went about constructing a bomb. If you can make an argument as to why academics should not be burdened in any way by such ethical considerations, I'm happy to hear it. Otherwise, I think it would be interesting to hear suggestions as to how to balance such ethical considerations and the desire to publish scholarship free online.--Peter Schmidt

5. nnnwww - February 17, 2010 at 01:36 am

Peter Schmidt: "Otherwise, I think it would be interesting to hear suggestions as to how to balance such ethical considerations and the desire to publish scholarship free online." Are you also willing to argue that a general interest magazine or newspaper shouldn't publish the information Cancer Cell published because there's a chance people will "misuse" the information? Should scholarly journals be restricted to scholars who, presumably, won't misuse information? Should libraries prohibit the general public from accessing scholarly journals that contain information that could be misused?

6. willismg - February 17, 2010 at 06:24 am

I don't believe that unfettered access to publishing is analogous to translating the Bible into vernacular languages. I believe that there is a real danger of "little knowledge being dangerous" here. Information in some journals can be used to directly, and physically, impact large numbers of innocent people by the unscrupulous. Whereas the Bible contained abstract ideas that would be dangerous to the established order, many journals publish information that can be translated into real action.

Further, it is important to note that these open journals are not being meaningfully scrutinized by anyone. The fact that the publisher assures you that their journal is on the up-and-up is virtually meaningless. And as the number of these things explodes, the situation will get much worse.

I believe that, unlike Wikipedia which is primarily for the general public, trying to remove the restrictions of serious peer review from serious journals is unwise. Although these journals will certainly all claim to have the highest standards, who among the best qualified will be willingly to take the time to review an article from "Joe's Journal" published in Kinshasha. They will almost certainly rely on "reviews" from less able scholars.

I think a much better solution would have been to make the established journals semi-open by forming a truly independent consortium of world universities to be "taxed" to provide adequate funding and oversight. The problem, as I understand it, is independence hampered by commercial considerations. However, the established journals have the advantage of an existing machinery that could be leveraged to continue their claim to high repute.

7. jweinheimer - February 17, 2010 at 06:37 am

We need to admit that peer-review is far from the panacea that many scholars want it to be. There have been plenty of examples of shoddiness getting by peer-review. Besides, new information comes up constantly and while something may have legitimately made it through the peer review process 10 or 15 years ago, it never would today. That's why in today's world, there is the possibility for a substantial improvement over traditional tools, with post peer review. Only in this way can someone know, when they are looking at a paper from 1996, that another paper was published in another journal in 2007 and effectively refuted the earlier paper.

These possibilities are relatively easy to implement today with the Web2.0 tools using forums, ratings and the like. These are the directions that would make a real difference not only to our colleagues, but to the public at large, so that everyone can see the debates, ferment, and even intellectual excitement taking place in the academy.

8. knmys - February 17, 2010 at 08:46 am

willismg: "Whereas the Bible contained abstract ideas that would be dangerous to the established order, many journals publish information that can be translated into real action."

Ever read Leviticus? It has a pretty long list of things that will get your stoned by your fellow bible-readers, assuming they could read.

That said, stopping open access to information in academic journals because it *might* be misused by uninformed readers or Snidley Whiplash wannabees is hardly a valid reason. When individuals decide to try a new treatment that is not yet approved for use by humans, it's not the fault of the researcher/publisher for writing that a certain compound worked in lab animals.

If anything, the field of journalism can cause the most damage to society through it's use of hysteria and exaggeration in order to 'sell' a story. This is especially true when the only 'peer reviewer' is an editor who has a deadline to meet.

9. kaluk8 - February 17, 2010 at 09:26 am

Isn't it ironic that this article is printed in an at-cost journal - keeping in mind that most aspects of higher education have some direct, and numerous indirect costs, paid for by the federal taxpayer?

I also agree with willismg's sentiment that subscription journals have for the most part provided invaluable post-grant peer review, and that eradicating that system leaves researchers and patients liable to deceit. OA is not some panacea, but it's talking points sure sound nice!

10. mbelvadi - February 17, 2010 at 09:48 am

Willismg and kaluk8 are confusing the open access "business model" with non-peer-review status.
Many journals are both open access AND peer-reviewed in the traditional scholarly way. In fact, the OJS software described in the article includes functions for editors to perform the entire traditional peer-review sequence of manuscript handling more efficiently online. My institution, UPEI, just announced that we're now hosting a fully peer-reviewed journal, the Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics (which has existed in print-only form for 11 volumes prior to this) as an OJS-based open access journal, and continues to be fully peer-reviewed.

As a librarian, I am horrified at the article's dire tone, repeated more than once, about the dangers of the public getting its hands on scholarship, from a purely philosophical perspective. A few individuals taking risks with incomplete information is hardly a good reason to lock up the world's most expensively-developed (and often taxpayer-funded) cutting edge knowledge.

And Open Access may make this slightly easier, but I have news for Mr. Schmidt - any member of the public in the US or Canada at least (which is probably where his anecdote happened) can walk into any public university library and have full access to all that traditionally-published scholarship. And PubMed, the most important medical research database, has been free on the Internet for several years via the US's National Library of Medicine. Usually the abstracts alone are enough for someone trying to self-medicate to figure out what to try, and if not, they could take a citation from it and go to any public library to "ILL" the full article. The business model of the publisher has pretty much nothing to do with these "risks".

11. chguk - February 17, 2010 at 10:07 am

mbelvadi: Exactly. Open access isn't a threat to peer review, it's a threat to the bottom line of the Elseviers and Springer-Verlags of this world.

12. dnewton137 - February 17, 2010 at 10:45 am

The ongoing debates about the implications and consequences of our transition from the "Gutenberg Age" to the "Internet Age" lead me to a suggestion for academics contemplating what should constitute "general education" or a "core curriculum." When I entered college as a freshman in 1949, my university was just phasing out a course that had been required for all students, titled "Propaganda Analysis." It had been established in the aftermath of World War II when propaganda had been a major political tool on all sides of the conflict. The objective of the course was to give the targets of propaganda the skills needed to "separate the wheat from the chaff," or how to identify what to "take with a grain of salt."

Perhaps it's time to reintroduce such a course in our required core curricula. I suppose we might call it something like "Introduction to Critical Thinking," but to me the rising flood of non-peer-reviewed academic publications, not to mention the partisan political prose that fills my newspapers and television screens, calls for labeling the needed reader/listener skill what it is, "propaganda analysis."

Don Langenberg

13. pschmidt - February 17, 2010 at 10:50 am

Mbelvadi, to return to an analogy offered in my earlier comment: I imagine anyone who searches hard enough online or in a library can find instructions on how to build a bomb. That said, few if any newspapers would feel comfortable publishing such instructions for a wide audience out of a sense that they would bear some responsibility for the consequences. So I have to ask: Should newspapers divest themselves from any ethical considerations regarding the publication of information people can get elsewhere? If it is appropriate for newspapers to feel some responsibility not to publish certain information that can be used to cause harm, what absolves an open-access scholarly publication that is universally and freely available from similar responsibility?

14. willismg - February 17, 2010 at 11:31 am

Yes, I do agree with Mbelvadi, although my last paragraph could have been clearer. Making the existing journals open, with all their existing review infrastructure and prestige, is certainly the way to go, in my opinion. I only wondered at who would foot the bill. Folks gotta eat, after all...

Of course, new startups could also be incorporated, if suitably vetted, but the idea that just anybody could get the same publishing "cred" as, say, Phys. Rev. B, simply by making a meaningless statement of "I'll play nice" to some database administrator in Sweden is not a good idea. This shouldn't be allowed to become Facebook. That seems to be the unfortunate but likely outcome of the Directory of Open Access Journals' procedure for listing a candidate journal in its database. At least as I read in the article...

If you read the comment posts on the horrific events at UAH in the Chronicle, I think you will see that the expected outcome of opening any site to the general public is that you eventually get inundated with "trolls" expounding all manner of things off the top of their flattened heads. Potentially giving over to these folks entire entities, masquerading under the guise of open scholarship, would need to be addressed effectively.

Needing to wade through such garbage is the chief concern to the completely open system that I see. Taking the time to determine for one's self which journals are authentic might prove problematic. At least with the established journals in each discipline, long history has allowed each succeeding generation of new scholars to enter the pages with a certain level of trust without much effort on their part.

15. nnnwww - February 17, 2010 at 11:34 am

Pschmidt: "...what absolves an open-access scholarly publication that is universally and freely available from similar responsibility?"

No such absolution is needed. Such a responsibility doesn't exist.

16. kaluk8 - February 17, 2010 at 11:37 am

mbelvadi: You ignore the fact that most journals are non-profit, which is a "business model" that I have no problem with.

What should be discussed at greater length are the costs that the libraries stand to save with an OA model. One of the greatest drivers for an OA model are libraries claiming some "greater good" for either researchers or "the public" by providing "open access." However, such disadvantaged constituencies has never been adequately defined or identified, yet the press release for policymakers is too good to resist.

In fact, most researchers I know have no trouble accessing information, and care more about the recent US funding trends for science more than anything. It seems that the journals are in fact "open," paid for by the university libraries, and as a result, taken from the operating budgets of universities that would otherwise be able to spend that money somewhere else. Just like employer-paid health insurance, we don't directly pay for it, but we sure do.

What the libraries really want is "free access," and have argued this fact under the straw man that the journal world is not "open" - a very politically emotive term. Again, this is disingenuous, but sure makes for a nice talking point.

17. panacea - February 17, 2010 at 11:40 am

Mr. Schmidt: no offense, but I find the idea that a newspaper would not print the details of how someone built a bomb out of fear someone would reproduce it to be a bit disingenuous. The details would more likely be omitted simply because they of are little interest to most readers. What would be of interest is the amount of damage done, number of people hurt or killed, and speculation on who did it rather than how.

I agree with nnnwww's statement that there is no ethical responsibility for academics to police how their research is used, other than to police themselves. For example, to distort or withold findings due to personal interest would be unethical. Furthermore, to withold findings out of fear a politician might distort it is equally unethical.

It is society's job to decide how to react to new knowledge, and to use it responsibly. That being said, it is likely that some research will be used to politicians or pseudoscientists to advance some sort of agenda. Responsible scholars can rebut or refute such uses, but not try to prevent them.

Otherwise there is no academic freedom.

18. pschmidt - February 17, 2010 at 11:45 am

Really, nnnwww? Anything goes?

19. 22181326 - February 17, 2010 at 02:02 pm

@chguk: "Open access isn't a threat to peer review, it's a threat to the bottom line of the Elseviers and Springer-Verlags of this world."

While OA is a threat to publisher profits, it is also a threat to peer review as it currently is conducted. Currently most peer-review is conducted online via web-based systems, including commercial systems and OJS. The commercial systems cost, but there is also a cost for using OJS, a cost that the article doesn't address: OJS is locally hosted. That is, if you use it, you must host the peer-review data. It costs to host those data. The cost may be hidden in IT infrastructure costs, but it's there. When my association used OJS to do peer-review, we paid to have the data hosted. And though we no longer use OJS, we are still paying to have the data hosted until we pay someone to export the data for us for our administrative records, as OJS doesn't have a straightforward data-export function that works for us.

Presumably there are data hosting costs for online publication through OJS, too. We didn't publish via OJS, but certainly there must be costs for hosting published online content. As your published record grows, your archiving costs will surely grow, too. Ask any librarian about the importance of archiving online publications. In the print world, librarians did the archiving and paid associated costs. Now the norm for online publishing is for the publisher to archive and, thus, incur the data costs! Who is paying for the online archiving of OA journals?

If data hosting is one of the smaller expenses of peer-review, human labor is one its the larger expenses. A successful journal gets lots of online submissions, and that time costs, too. Every editor we have ever engaged for any of our journals has wanted (and needed) one more more editorial assistants. I once asked a roomful of editors whether they handled their own web software transactions with authors, and they looked at me like I was from another planet. Editors may get course release time from their institutions, but it's not enough time to do all the transactions that web-based peer-review requires, especially for a journal receiving hundreds of submissions a year. As a result, my employer gives each journal editor an annual stipend of thousands of dollars to ensure they have effective administrative support; institutions chip in, too, but they always take the stipend.

So as peer review is currently managed and realized, there are costs, and with online publishing's archival needs, there are costs. Therefore OA could endanger both peer review and archiving. I agree that many commercial publisher titles may be overpriced, but there is a host of nonprofit publishers such as my organization that seek to invest in and sustain peer review and reliable archiving, and we all need to recognize that the costs of any worthwhile endeavor are never zero.

If there are faculty out there whose deans are ready to pay for hosting of peer review data and archived published content and are ready to give significant course release time for professors to administrate online systems such as OJS, then OJS would be a great tool for them. But as we know, deans aren't brimming with extra resources these days; so it isn't yet clear whether or how effective alternatives to "traditional" online peer review and archiving will emerge.

20. commentarius - February 17, 2010 at 02:35 pm

OA and peer review have nothing to do with each other: opposing OA by claiming a threat to peer review is just a stale red herring publishers have been holding up for years. It's nonsense.

OA merely means that articles from a journal are not behind a subscription wall. It's not a business model in itself. There are many possible business models to support OA, some promising, others not so much. We do have to acknowledge that someone has to pay for the gathering, vetting, editing (such as it is), and peer review processes as well as the servers and archiving costs. These do cost money and not trivially so. Print distribution costs are somewhat marginal compared to first-copy editorial costs, and those who claim that OA "makes stuff free" or nearly so are way off the mark. It's not free, and somebody has to pay.

However, peer review can be applied to any content regardless of how that content is subsequently distributed. There are good OA journals that have solid peer review processes just like paid journals (e.g. PLOS). There are disreputable vanity OA publishers who apply little if any peer review and whose models are based on high throughput and author charges. The same can be said of subscription journals: some are reputable with solid peer review, others are junk that accept almost anything.

So publishers should stop shoveling the line that "OA could endanger both peer review and archiving" -- it is a completely unfounded claim designed to distract from the real issue, which is fear of new competition for shrinking revenue. Yet so far I don't see many fee-based journals failing for lack of renewals from libraries. There are more and more of them every year.

21. sshreeves - February 17, 2010 at 03:54 pm

Thank you, commentarius, for clarifying the issue of OA and peer review. I have been a bit horrified to see the misinformation about OA in the article and in some of the subsequent comments.

Open access is a very complicated issue, but it becomes much harder to discuss in constructive and open ways with all partners (including publishers, authors, and libraries) when surrounded by FUD.

22. novain - February 17, 2010 at 04:14 pm

We write the paper. We review the paper. Ofcourse, our salary covers our efforts towards these. Once the paper is accepted, we pay the publication fee to the journals as well. Yet, our research community can not access them openly. I still have not figured how this practice came into being in the first place!

I am all for open access!

23. mbelvadi - February 17, 2010 at 07:07 pm

A couple of followup comments, responding to comments after my first:
Mr. Schmidt, can I take it from your argument that you strongly oppose the current NIH rules that require researchers whose research was funded by NIH grants to make their articles available for free via PubMed within 12 months of publication? Surely this presents exactly the same danger that you express concern with, yet has nothing at all to do with OA.

And a scholarly article in a scholarly journal just isn't comparable with a newspaper printing bomb instructions for so many reasons. One: the lexile level (reading skill) is so much higher in a scholarly journal that one can presume the readers who can make sense of it to be generally more savvy, probably more educated generally, than the average newspaper reader, and particularly not likely to be kids, and two: there probably isn't much social good to be gained from the bomb instructions, but there is a huge amount of social good to be gained from sharing new research findings with as wide an international audience as possible (don't be US-centric kaluk8, think about the rest of the world too).

And as someone else alluded to, probably far more harm has been done as a result of popular press misreporting scholarly results for general readers than has ever been done by laypeople reading scholarly articles. Are you going to advocate censorship of such misreporting?

Other comments: 22181326, hosting an OJS title isn't free, but an institution with a reasonable IT infrastructure shouldn't find it nearly as expensive as the library's subscription cost for a single typical STM (science, tech, med) journal.

I don't know how many readers of these comments realize that academic libraries pay hugely more than individuals do for print journal subscriptions. It's a digusting but legal price discrimination system. It's not uncommon for a single STM journal to cost $1,000, $5,000 or even $10-20,000 PER YEAR. Then consider that the commercial journal publishers increase that cost by 5-9% each year, every year, and library budgets surely don't go up that much, especially not year after year. So where does the difference get made up? Ask your librarian, and see the agony.

24. mbelvadi - February 17, 2010 at 07:17 pm

One quick example, since someone mentioned:
Physical Review B:
APS member price, online only: $45.
Institutional subscription price, online-only, $4,300.
And that's actually a non-profit and publishes a huge number of articles. Try looking at Emerald's or Wiley's individual vs. institutional price lists sometime, and you'll see why librarians are desperate.

25. trterry - February 17, 2010 at 09:17 pm

If I was a legislator writing a state higher education budget I'd take a sharpe knife to money for other than open source journals. When there are no more printing costs, no more postage costs, no more address list costs and they are the tool of promotion of those writing them why spend state or tuition on them?

My mentor taught me two things early on. One, except for the Physics Review Letters, everything printed is at least a year old (behind); and two, what didn't work (often as important as what did work) never gets published!

If what does and does not work got out quicker the world would be better off. If the lay public draws the wrong conclusions now and then it won't be the first time. Confusion is better than secrecy. Whenever I hear that "people" will be "confused" I start looking at what they are trying to hide.

With the traditional lay press going broke the place were reliable information will be available will be the "Learned Press". Otherwise the void will be (is being?) filled by lay "experts". Also, maybe the writing in the "Learned Press" will improve.

26. pschmidt - February 17, 2010 at 09:21 pm

To clarify myself, for mbelvadi's benefit: I am not arguing for censorship or for or against any policy.

I am, however, noting that the publication of information to a mass audience can have unintended and undesired consequences. I am making the observation that newspapers will at times refrain from publishing certain information that can be used to cause harm because they feel a sense of responsiblity for the consequences of publishing it. I am raising the question of whether the ability to to use open-access publishing to disseminate scholarship far and wide carries with it any of the responsibility that newspapers believe they bear for their publishing decisions. And I am inviting readers who believe that academic journals bear no responsibility for how the information they publish is used to spell out exactly what distinguishes open-access academic journals from newspapers in this respect. If you read back through my story and comments, they all simply raise the issue and invite people to clarify themselves or support arguments they have made.

To commend you, mbelvadi, I found helpful your effort in the second paragraph of post 23 to discuss what you think distinguishes open-access scholarly journals and newspapers on this ethical front. I wish other people who have commented anonymously (and thus without taking responsibility) would have taken a moment to either explain absolutist stands or tackle the question of whether new ethical considerations arise when scholarly work is disseminated to anyone capable of an Internet search.

If I have a regret in all this, it is that I may have unnecessarily narrowed the discussion with my bomb analogy. Newspapers have felt a responsibility not to publish all sorts of information, such as the names of rape victims, the identities of children accused of crimes, and information that they have determined they cannot publish without jeopardizing national security. Some of these decisions may have been right, and some may have been wrong. But if one considers the potential consequences of decisions to publish such information, it is not hard to imagine how harm could result from a decision to publish a given article in a scholarly journal available to anyone with Internet access, including people with a poor grasp of what they are reading. Should the possibility of such harm ever discourage a scholarly journal from publishing something or influence how the journal frames what it publishes? Does such potential harm represent a necessary and inescapable downside of open-access publishing that is far outweighed by the positives? I leave those questions open. Perhaps only time will tell. Personally, I would not be in journalism if I did not believe in the free exchange of ideas, but I sleep better knowing that I have considered the potential consequences of my journalistic decisions.--Peter Schmidt

27. nnnwww - February 17, 2010 at 10:45 pm

pschmidt: "Should the possibility of such harm ever discourage a scholarly journal from publishing something or influence how the journal frames what it publishes?" No.

pschmidt: "I wish other people who have commented anonymously (and thus without taking responsibility) would have taken a moment to either explain absolutist stands or tackle the question of whether new ethical considerations arise when scholarly work is disseminated to anyone capable of an Internet search." No, new ethical considerations don't arise. You claim a problem that I don't think exists. Perhaps it's as simple as having different ideas about free exchange of information. (I'm not sure what point you're making with your parenthetical comment. You're free not to engage those of us writing anonymously, although even those with usernames that take the traditional form of names may be anonymous. On the other hand The Chronicle allows "anonymous" comments. Perhaps they shouldn't. In any event, I'm not sure what point you're making.)

28. holl2226 - February 18, 2010 at 08:16 am

While I disagree with willismg's comment, "Whereas the Bible contained abstract ideas that would be dangerous to the established order, many journals publish information that can be translated into real action," I think the comment at the end of knmys's response about the persuasiveness of the Bible is supercilious: "things that will get your stoned by your fellow bible-readers, assuming they could read."

Ever heard of William F. Buckley, Jr.? Or Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek?

29. 22181326 - February 18, 2010 at 08:48 am

@commentarius: Are there any business models supporting OA other than author publication fees or foundation grant funding? Those are the two that your PLOS example journals use, and they don't seem sustainable in the social sciences. What social science grant out there would pay the $2,250+ author fee that PLOS journals currently charge? Social science and humanities articles actually cost much more to publish than STM articles; see http://www.nhalliance.org/news/humanities-social-science-scholarly-journal-publis.shtml.

While in theory OA and peer review may have nothing to do with one another, in reality there is a connection due to prevailing business models and the differing needs of various disciplines. And the connection is that quality work requires a system for sustainable funding. And right now I don't see the money in social science or humanities grants to sustain OA publishing. Do you?

30. haohtt - February 18, 2010 at 04:17 pm

I have had articles of mine published in both print and online open access journals. I have never been charged a fee to have my articles published and the rigor of the peer review process was equivalent. Surely, the ease of creating online journals will likely result in a combination of good and bad ones--just as the ease of creating web sites made it easier to develop diploma mills, alongside legitimate distance learning programs. I wish to commend Mr. Schmidt for taking such an active role in in the discussion of his article. It is refreshing to see an author who is willing to interact with his readers. I wish that more of this occurred here at the Chronicle.

31. pschmidt - February 18, 2010 at 04:18 pm

To nnnwww: My point in mentioning "people who have commented anonymously (and thus without taking responsibility" is that I am not quite sure how much stock I would put in a hit-and-run driver's claims that the world would be just fine without rules of the road.--Peter Schmidt

32. educationfrontlines - February 21, 2010 at 05:40 pm

I have not heard an adequate discussion of the problem of permanent and accessible archiving. In 2001, the journal Science ran a study that showed 10% of online journals disappeared every 15 months and my students have since found this to be a continuing problem. With the short life of both hardware and software, an online-only journal is vulnerable to extinction when the parent organization/sponsor is no longer around to support it. Portico and other "archives" are not in a position to continuously migrate materials to new formats/platforms without money from those extinct sponsors. Remember DOS? Floppies? Acid free paper lasts centuries. Why is there a belief that electronic media are immortal when they are more at risk of being ephemeral. There are journals that have gone online but continue to place printed versions in libraries around the world for this very reason. If you "publish" in a strictly online journal, it could disappear. It has for some authors.

John Richard Schrock

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