February 9th, 2008 Richard
Not surprisingly, some people think that it’s a jip that tax payers support the National Science Foundation, Public Universities, and similar agencies that fund research; while, at the same time, this research is published in very high price journals, not easily available to most. Some would even suggest that all of this type of research information should be readily available to the public (e.g., medical journals). This is compounded by the fact that journal costs are extremely high compared to other types of publications. Some argue that this is because journal publishers take advantage of the fact that academic libraries feel obliged to carry major journals. Further, there is also almost no decrease in cost for electronic editions, despite the lower production overhead. Academics are so frustrated by this situation, that some, such as the Stanford Faculty senate, have encouraged libraries to cancel subscriptions, and academics to withhold reviews and publishing, for overly high priced journals.
As a consequence, there is growing movement in academics and elsewhere to push for open access journals, where information can be accessed for free via the web. Such an idea is not as unreasonable as it may seem on the face of it, since academics themselves do most of the work anyway. They write and review the articles, for free; and often serve as editors for little or no wages. I, personally, support this view and, in fact, my colleagues and I recently published an article in the open-access web periodical, the Journal of Learning, Technology, and Assessment; which includes traditional academic peer review, an editorial board as prestigious as any other major educational research journal, and is highly regarded in the field. In fact, there are more and more open access journals available, many of which are listed in the directory of open access journals.
This issue came to light again for me recently with this passionate blog post by Dana Boyd, a PhD candidate in the School of Information at Cal-Berkley and a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School. She argues a more extreme position, where she calls for academics to boycott all but open access journals, an idea that I find intriguing. Of course, it’s easy for me to be brave enough to consider such a thing when I am a tenured full professor. Not so easy for a non-tenured assistant professor whose career is dependent on publishing in prestigious journals, most of which are still not open access. Further, there are certainly pragmatic issues having to do with infrastructure costs – such as marketing, distribution, and copy editing – costs that would most likely fall to universities, or foundations in an open-access world. Many of these issues come to light in the comments/responses to the blog post cited above.