Ergo, ego 
Ergo, a new open access philosophy journal, recently posted its first issue. It includes a long introductory essay by Franz Huber and Jonathan Weisberg explaining why they think the new journal is important. One reason, they write, is that "By partnering with publishers instead of open access initiatives at university libraries, we effectively give our work over to middlemen from whom libraries must then buy it back."

I have begun to feel this in my own research. When I find a reference to a recent article and my university doesn't get the journal, I stop short. Often I do the work to get my hands on a copy, but sometimes I don't. And scholars all over the world face that same situation. So the article is not read as much and is not as influential as it could be if it were readily available for download.

My recent practice has been to e-mail the author of the paper and ask if they could send me a PDF. The response tends to be friendly and enthusiastic. In some cases, authors hadn't even realized that their paper had finally been published!

To sum up, I am an enthusiastic supporter of open access journals in general and Ergo in particular. So I'm especially pleased that they have accepted my paper Science and rationality for one and all.

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Open fire 
At the Creative Commons blog, there's discussion of a recent report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund about the the impact of expensive textbooks. It documents something I had observed anecdotally in my own classes, that lots of students decide not to buy textbooks because of the cost and that their performance in classes suffers for it.

I agree with the core of the findings and with the sentiment that open textbooks are a good thing, but there is one aspect that's worrisome.

The study includes this factoid: "82% of students felt they would do significantly better in a course if the textbook was available free online and buying a hard copy was optional. This is exactly how open textbooks are designed."

It does not surprise me to learn that this is what many students feel. However, we know that students do not relate to text on screen in the same way they relate to text on paper. It is harder to read actively and mark up a text on screen; in some contexts, it is simply impossible. Although a free online version is an improvement on an expensive hard copy that they refuse to buy, an affordable hard copy which they buy or print would be even better.

As tablets and e-readers proliferate, this may change, but it would be premature to pretend we are already in that brave digital future.

My own book, forall x, is not designed for online consumption. It is intended to be used as a hard copy, and on line distribution is a way for people to freely get the print-ready files. I use electronic resources similarly in other courses. In history of philosophy, for example, it's a way of cutting out the margin that book publishers and the bookstore would add to public domain material. So the report conflates open access versus commercial books (whether there are license fees or not) with online versus hardcopy (how the student interacts with the content).

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Florida and the last mile of logic 
Back in 2007, I opted to change the license for my logic textbook, forall x. The removal of the Non-Commercial provision meant that, since then, people have been allowed to sell copies of the book and of any derivative works they might make. At the time, I wrote this:
There is little danger that a publisher will sell an overpriced deluxe edition of forall x, because the Sharealike provision would preclude them from exercising restrictive rights over it. The content would still be free.

I was perhaps a bit too optimistic.

A while later, a company began selling a poorly made ebook version on Amazon. I wrote a review telling people not to buy it and pointing them to where they can download it for free.

Today I discovered that University Press of Florida is offering forall x for $32.50. They assigned it an ISBN and everything. Their product page does not have any product description at all. If you do a search, though, the description includes information about how to get a copy from Lulu where it's available for $8.50.

They also have the title slightly wrong: "Forall x: Introductory Textbook in Formal Logic" rather than "forall x: An introduction to formal logic"

At the same time, the Senate is considering legislation to support more open licensed textbooks in an effort to make college textbooks affordable. We need to remember that an open license only saves the bit that would be paid to the author. The last mile is getting the text into student hands, which requires not screwing them on printing costs.

UPDATE nov19: I just spoke with someone at UPF. They print the book on-demand for Orange Grove, an imprint which has offered it on Amazon since 2009. So it was already something I knew about, really.

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Problems in logic and the application of terms 
Brian Leiter has a recent post which I'll quote in full:
Open-access textbooks
Here's one in logic, that will be familiar to many readers.

The link is to a page for Arguments: Deductive Logic Exercises by Howard Pospesel and David Marans. The book was originally published in 1978 and has been long out of print. Rights have reverted to the authors, who have made scanned PDFs available for free.

The frontmatter includes the statement, "Permission is hereby granted for reprinting this work in whole or in part if, and only if, the material includes [this disclaimer]." The right to reprint is something, but it is not actually open-access. The book is free to share, but only inside a password locked PDF. Nobody can use the problem sets in another context or adapt them for somewhat different purposes. They can't even typset it properly to make it anything besides the image files of scanned pages.

Regardless, the book is kind of nifty. One thing that people who teach logic inevitably need is more exercises, either to assign as homework or to use as exam questions. And that's all Arguments is, page after page of sentences and arguments. They are divided into chapters, but numbered continuously. I was amused to find this in the middle of the book:
299 "He whose TESTICLES are crushed or whose male MEMBER is cut off shall not ENTER the assembly of the Lord."
Deuteronomy 23:1
(Universe: people)

I used to be able to identify translations of the Bible just from how they translated this one verse. Pospesel and Marans have used the Revised Standard Version.

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The open access dragnet 
In Who's Afraid of Peer Review, recently published in Science, John Bohannon reports on an experiment he did with open access science journals. He sent them a spoof paper that had the form of a serious article but was chock full of horrible errors. Only about 38% of the journals rejected it. Bohannon also talked about the paper in a recent NPR interview.

The blog Games with Words points out that this fails as a test of open access journals, because it is not clear what the acceptance rate would have been at traditional, closed-access journals. Note that it doesn't help to say (as Bohannon does) that acceptance of the spoof paper probably occurred when an open access journal simply didn't bother with peer review, even if we also accept that closed journals all genuinely conduct peer review. The study has no way of distinguishing the absence of peer review from crap peer review, and some closed journals may conduct crap peer review.

This criticism is sharpened because failure to have a control group was one of the howlers in Bohannon's spoof paper. He says in the NPR interview:
It looked like real paper, not a joke. But if you peer-reviewed it, you would within five minutes see that it was so flawed that it could never be published. ... if you're claiming to have evidence that some chemical is a promising new drug, well, you better have tested at least on healthy cells. Because even if you show that it hurts cancer cells, how do you know what you have there isn't just a poison? So that's one thing that's just awful about the paper, is that it doesn't compare cancer cells to healthy cells at all.

So GamesWithWords retorts: "Science -- which is not open access -- published an obviously flawed article about open access journals publishing obviously flawed articles."

Nevertheless, it seems that Bohannon wasn't even trying to test open-access as such. He says, "Open-access is great and everyone believes that."

Instead, he says that his results could be used to separate the sham open-access journals (which print anything so as to scam author fees) from genuine ones (which conduct authentic peer review and try to publish good science). That doesn't require a control group. If the goal is to sort rotten open-access journals from good open-access journals, then we don't need to consider anything but the open-access journals.

Yet if that's the goal, then the percentage of acceptances really doesn't matter. What matters is using a reliable sorting process and publicizing the results. Journals by the Cairo-based publisher Hindawi rejected the paper. Journals by Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer, and Sage accepted it.

And the fact that the results are presented as a percentage and series of anecdotes means that numerous readers will read it instead as a poor score for open-access as such. Brian Leiter, for example, links to the NPR interview just by writing "Open access journals in science: This story is a bit worrisome!"

Also note that Bohannon's experiment only tested journals that charge author fees. He explicitly excluded journals that don't. As I've noted before, it's the author-pays model that gives publishers like Elsevier, Kluwer, and Sage the incentive to run bogus, review-free journals.

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