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American Anthropological Assn. Will Experiment With Open Access

The American Anthropological Association publishes more than 20 journals. None is open access. The public currently has to wait 35 years after publication to have free access to articles, according to a spokeswoman for the group.

That will change early next year, when the journal Cultural Anthropology switches over to a fully open-access model. The Society for Cultural Anthropology, a section of the association, runs the journal.

“Starting with the first issue of 2014, CA will provide worldwide, instant, free (to the user), and permanent access to all of our content (as well as 10 years of our back catalog),” Brad Weiss, the society’s president, said in a statement posted on the group’s Web site. He said that “Cultural Anthropology will be the first major, established, high-impact journal in anthropology to offer open access to all of its research” and that the society hopes the experiment will be useful to other open-access publishing efforts in the social sciences and humanities.

Charles D. Piot, a professor of anthropology at Duke University, edits Cultural Anthropology. In a conference call with reporters, he called open access “likely the wave of the future” and said that anthropologists had become increasingly concerned about the relationship between universities and commercial publishers. Last year, when the AAA asked the sections for new publishing ideas, the society pitched redoing its flagship journal as an online, open-access publication.

The push for open access has spread far and wide in the sciences and is catching on among social scientists as well. “We’re producing articles that come out of the intellectual commons, and we hand them over to presses who sell them back to us,” Mr. Piot said. “That’s been a strong moral issue for a lot of anthropologists that I’ve spoken to.” So has the desire to make research “freely available to people anywhere in the world,” not just those affiliated with universities that can afford journal subscriptions, he said.

The association currently has a contract with Wiley-Blackwell for its journals program. Cultural Anthropology’s switch to open access will not affect that contract, according to Edward B. Liebow, the association’s new executive director. The journal will still be offered to library subscribers and to AAA members through the AnthroSource online portal.

Mr. Liebow described the decision to support Cultural Anthropology’s open-access switch as “one of many steps we are taking to adapt our publishing program to the remarkable changes in the publishing lineup out there.” The association “really welcomes its community of journals to experiment with a variety of new approaches,” he said.

The Society for Cultural Anthropology has already started to revamp its Web site and move content online in preparation for the shift. It hasn’t yet worked out whether it will use an author-pays model to cover costs or try what Mr. Piot called “the NPR model” and call on members for support. “We would have to make a strong moral pitch to our membership,” the editor said.

Mr. Liebow is not worried that the experiment will hurt the association’s bottom line. “It’s important to recognize that while the revenue we receive from publishing is important to it financially, our publishing program doesn’t make money,” Mr. Liebow said. Given that its publications represent “such an important part of our scholarly exchange,” he said, “we think it’s worth the money to make the experiment.”

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