A down side of open access journals

The latest notable milestone in the open access journal movement is the announcement by Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, MIT, and U of C Berkeley that they have formed an open access journal compact in order to share research more widely.

Most peer-reviewed journals are not available to the general public (or even the thoughtful public). Annual subscriptions are expensive. The people who read scholarly journals are the ones who tend to write for scholarly journals: faculty members working in universities and paid for doing research as part (or all) of their responsibilities. To compensate for the subscriptions costs, some open access journals charge authors for publishing accepted papers.

According to Harvard professor Shieber who authored the five-university agreement, “Universities and funding agencies ought to provide equitable support for open-access publishing by subsidizing the processing fees that faculty incur when contributing to open-access publications. Right now, these fees are relatively rare. But if the research community supports open-access publishing and it gains in importance as we believe that it will, those fees could aggregate substantially over time. The compact ensures that support is available to eliminate these processing fees as a disincentive to open-access publishing.”

It’s comforting that he acknowledges fees as a potential barrier. However, the article seems to assume research is done by faculty members. What about the independent scholar-practitioner who does good research to enhance his or her work and vice versa? I have seen many exciting presentations at conferences by people who have little or no formal association with universities. My guess is that their university associations are often with young, innovative institutions rather than “top tier” institutions with large endowments. They are an interesting and marginalized group. If we want scholarship to influence practice and have practical experience influencing scholarship in real time, will open access journals with author fees be another barrier to that integration?

As Clarke and Kingsley point out, the unlocking of intellectual property is an idea in-progress; hopefully its directions will be studied from many perspectives.

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