You'd Prefer An Argonaute

Open Access Part 1

Posted in Open Access by YPAA on April 4, 2009

I came across A field guide to misunderstandings about open access by Peter Suber (via A Blog Around the Clock)

Once you get past the odd analogy made between open access misconceptions and wild creatures that hide in the woods, this impressively thorough guide is very informative.

I am completely in support of Open Access in scientific publishing. That said, I must be up front about a few things:

  • I have never published an article in an open access journal
  • I don’t peruse open access journals nearly as often as I do toll access journals
  • In some situations I can see the value in publishing in toll access journals, for purely self-serving reasons really

So therefore I’m not a hardcore open access person — I am not totally fixed on the issues of open access, and probably never will be. But the model for publishing scientific research in the U.S. in toll access journals has never made a whole lot of sense to me: An academic researcher pays, (either directly or through their institution), a journal a lot of money to read their own work, which was not funded by the journal, but rather often by the federal government, via taxpayers, including said researcher. Some journals do offer other bells and whistles to make their product more attractive to potential readers, but these accessories aren’t enough in my mind to subvert that underlining business model past the part of my brain that reasons. For younger researchers indoctrinated in this model, and trying to ascend in their field, it is understandable how difficult it can be to suddenly become fully idealistic, to risk dulling some of the potential shine from a C.V. My sense is that the tide will turn, albeit very slowly, to a point where open access and toll access journals can co-exist, and compete with each other. I can’t see open access taking over, but neither can I see it ever going away.

My institution of residence, MIT, recently made a huge, and almost certainly very influential, step toward spreading the open access gospel. An institute-wide measure was passed unanimously by faculty to make their scholarly articles open access, and available on the web. (Not surprisingly, this news didn’t make it to the pages of Nature or Science the following week, although it did make it to their affiliated blogs, curiously completely absent of comments.)

Of course, this isn’t the first time MIT has broken ground in open access, back in 2001 it launched Open Course Ware to make as many course materials as possible available to the public. Eight years later, OCW hasn’t achieved its far-reaching goal of making all MIT course materials available online, but there is a lot up there. In one line at the end of a post about a Sean Eddy review of a book of essays on open access education, Larry Moran of Sandwalk complains that the quality of the content offered by OCW for MIT’s Biology courses is very poor, “cargo cult” he calls it. After a brief examination, I concede that it is a patchwork of materials still, (some useful and some not), missing crucial lecture notes from faculty instructors (because they are copyrighted). But I’m sure what is up there took a lot of time to put together, like the textbooks Moran rightly argues will be very difficult to ever make open access. Baby steps Larry, baby steps. (Actually, at this point more like adolescent steps.)

An article from the Berkeleyan from 2007 that first got me interested in the open access debate is here.


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