Saturday, October 23, 2010

My thoughts on Open Access

It is now near the end of Open Access Week, and I want to get some thoughts down in electrons.

I went to a presentation by Dr. Keith Seitter from the American Meteorological Society (AMS, not to be confused with the American Mathematical Society...), Wim van der Stelt from Springer, and Heath Joseph from SPARC/ARL speak at the UCAR facility up in Boulder on Weds the 20th.

I was struck by the fact that the AMS revealed how much revenue they get from publishing their journals, and that they take in about 10% "profit" to help support some of the other activities in the society. Pretty much, the publishing is the only thing that brings in revenue, so they have to use some of that money to support those other activities. I think the amount of revenue is on the order of $8 Million, but don't quote me on that. They do have a fully OA journal, and many/most/all of their journals where they provide free backfile access. Here are their OA policies, from Sherpa Romeo.

Author's Pre-print: green tick author can archive pre-print (ie pre-refereeing)
Author's Post-print: green tick author can archive post-print (ie final draft post-refereeing)
Publisher's Version/PDF: green tick author can archive publisher's version/PDF
General Conditions: [A bunch of conditions are listed...]

In short, they are in favor of Open Access, but they want to see a smooth and balanced transition to OA so the society can survive.

Wim from Springer approached the topic of OA from a commercial standpoint. Most of what he talked about was their commercial author-pays model of OA. They own and manage the BioMed Central OA journals. I applaud them for venturing into OA, but I think they are too tied to the author-pays model. There are many other financial mechanisms for supporting OA.

In the far future (maybe 10-25 years out), I see academics and scholars taking back publishing from the commercial realm. Someone will invent a system where peer-review can be done in a wiki or blog-like fashion, and in a way that displays who commented on what or who modified what. These systems exist now, but there isn't very much uptake. A lot of the scholars are slow to use these new systems because there is a great deal of inertia that makes it difficult to change course. Faculty want to publish in Nature or Science (Note: they do allow for various forms of OA, but they are not Gold OA journals.) or Whatever Journal that has the highest supposed impact. Once faculty begin to realize that they can have a greater impact by publishing in OA sources, the name of the journal will not matter as much. The names of the authors with high prestige will draw in the readers regardless of the name of the journal that the article has been published in. This will be the new academic whuffie economy. How will authors and researchers earn high whuffie scores, high prestige, high esteem from colleagues and a great reputation? They will write great articles, and share their knowledge with the most people possible through OA. They will not write articles in closed-access journals where only a few people can read them.

That, and they will probably also learn to calculate their own h-index score instead of just using the impact factors of the journals they happen to publish in.

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