Open Access: Second Thoughts

I have always been a proponent of Open Access scholarship. The days where dissemination of scholarship cost a significant amount of money are over. However, I am having some second thoughts. Most of these lie in the fact that, while I like open access, I like academic freedom even more. It is this juncture that bothers me the most.

Open Access began mostly in the sciences as a reaction to the fact that science publishers were continuing to mark-up the amount it cost to purchase journals without thinking of the stagnating and declining library budgets. This has lead to a confrontation between libraries and publishers in the sciences. The outcome of this continuing debate is two forms of Open Access called “Green”, preferred by libraries and university administrators, and “Gold”, preferred by the UK government and publishers. A good discussion of the pros and cons can be found here.

My main concern comes from the fact that, whatever kind of Open Access you choose, they are backed by mandates from funders and university administrators. This is the most problematic part of Open Access from my point of view. The tradition is that scholars knew their audiences and were free to write and research for them in whatever venue they best knew. Now, however, there is a thick layer of “research managers” who are ever more insistent that they know scholarship better than those who actually do the scholarship or research. This, coupled with the statistically dubious impact factor, is now the driving narrative around Open Access.

For the Humanities, all of these debates are being foisted upon them as, in their reality, nothing much has changed. Monographs and journals are still reasonably priced. Scholarship continues just as it has for many, many years. The reality is that most readers who maybe interested in the output of Humanities scholars prefer physical books to ebooks. This means that there just is no market or interest in Open Access online monographs or books.

The point is that university administrators are now using Open Access as a tool of control over the scholastic process, which was always managed by the academics themselves. This is causing a slow moving power struggle between them with Open Access getting a bad name in the Humanities in the process. This is mainly an administrative over-reach and a dismissive attitude towards the Humanities, whether justified or not, by those in positions of influence or power. Although, I will maintain that Humanities scholars have remained myopic in the face of the rise of new communications technologies.

I guess my new stance is that Open Access is a good idea but the implementation is awful and seriously needs re-evaluation in light of the principles of Academic Freedom and a respect for those who actually engage in research and scholarship, which seems missing from the current climate of debate.

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user-pic Celticist, Computer Scientist, Nerd, sometimes a poet…