There's open and then there's "open" 
I was an invited speaker last week at DIY Publishing and the University, an event held by the NorthEast Regional Computing Program. I was there because of forall x; the organizers had found me through the Creative Commons database.

Most of the speakers talked about electronic resources, like institutional archives, student videos, or MOOCs. I was the odd man out, because forall x is a traditional textbook. Although it is distributed electronically, it is designed to be used as a physical workbook. Today I ran across an article in Salon which supports my old-school approach; it argues that people just don't comprehend material read on screen or on a tablet as well as material read on paper. Yet the difference is not so clear or strong that we should imagine it is inevitable. Future students may be better at learning from electronic documents, and future technology might present them in better ways. I will still be teaching a decade or two from now, and my preference for paper may be something I'll need to get over.*

One nice result of the NERCOMP event is that I now have a better understanding of MOOCs. A MOOC (the acronym stands for Massive Open Online Course) allows people from all over the world to register for and take a course. They might watch videos of lectures, participate in a discussion forum with other students, take tests on their computer, and so on. Because the courses are free, they are often mentioned in the same context as open-access textbooks.

The thing I learned is that "open" in MOOC just means open enrollment. Anyone anywhere is free to take the course. The course materials might be released under a Creative Commons license, but they might just be under traditional copyright. MIT labels its MOOC material "some rights reserved" and, although that is a standard label on CC-licensed material, MIT does not specify an specific permissions. Because they don't say, "some" is legally equivalent to "all". The difference is just a flourish, because "all rights reserved" would not sound as welcoming.

So I was also the odd man out because I was one of the few presenters specifically concerned with open access issues.**


* Even if there are cyborg students in the future, though, there are still concerns of equity. Even if it gets to the point where digital natives with advanced e-readers think better with electronic documents than with paper documents, economic disparities will mean that other students don't. Of course, the future of the university as an enterprise is also up for grabs in the next decade or two.
** Not the only one. Thomas Dodson, a librarian from Harvard, talked about their open access repository of faculty research.

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The Leiter side of open access 
This morning, Brian Leiter made this post about Open Access publishing:
The Not-so-High Standards at (at least some) "Open Access" Journals

Not a great advertisement for the genre.

I hammered out a reply, which he added as an update. Here's what I said:
Your recent blog post rightly decries "The Not-so-High Standards at (at least some) "Open Access" Journals" and describes the case as "Not a great advertisement for the genre".

Importantly, the genre in question is not Open Access journals tout court. The real problem here is OA journals that use an author-pays model. Lots of them are straight forwardly scams to chisel money out of institutions that cover that kind of publishing and out of authors who need a line on their CV.

There are other models of OA. Quality OA journals don't charge author fees. I'm thinking here especially of Philosophers' Imprint, but also of less well-known and less prestigious ones like Logos&Episteme. We can argue about their stature in the field, but their being OA is not a demerit.

There is also the model which is sometimes called "green OA", in which authors' papers are systematically hosted in institutional or disciplinary archives. Although this does not result in OA journals as such, traditional journals can facilitate or thwart the practice depending on how they handle rights.

Qualifying your post with the caveat "at least some" is importantly not enough, because we can state precisely what's wrong here. For-profit publishers have an interest in suspicion being raised about OA in general, when really it's a specific business model that leads to egregious abuses like the one that you point to.

Long time readers might remember that I've fumbled this distinction in the past, so my point isn't to excoriate Leiter. Given the long-term importance of Open Access publishing for academia, it's important not to let bad practices tar the whole enterprise. The distinction between different kinds of OA (author-pays, author-doesn't-pay, and self-archived) is important.

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It takes a village to write a book 
My open access logic book, forall x, is going to be used this Fall for the first year logic course at Cambridge. I was contacted by a librarian there, who said that the course leader had edited a version especially for their course. So, she wanted to know, how should the book be listed and how should I be credited?

My reply, below the fold.
Read More...

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What journals do 
There's an interesting roundtable discussion in Theoria about journal publishing. The editors of several journals discuss the role that journals play in professional philosophy, including the evaluation of philosophers and funding decisions. They also discuss the possibilities of open access publishing.

Social responsibility of editors


Late in the discussion, someone from the audience asks "Why should the editor of a philosophical journal think so much about how the academic system appoints people to their jobs?" The alternative, one of the panelists suggests, is to just "produce good journals."

Sven Ove Hansson resists this suggestion, saying that "journals are part of, and very much integrated in, the academic system." And he's right. Whether journal editors face up to it or not, what and who gets published has real consequences for what and who gets attention and funding. There are institutional consequences of running a journal one way rather than another; that is to say, running a journal has political consequences. So editting a journal is (among other things) a political act.

More than that, there no such thing as a good journal simpliciter. What it is to be a good journal depends on how the journal will be used. The standards for how things should be written, how much citation is required, and so on all depend on the audience. For a journal with no intended audience at all, there is no difference between a good journal and a bad journal. To consider the most extreme possibility, imagine philosophers who toil to produce a journal which is immediately dropped into a black hole.*

So part of an editor's responsibility is to consider who the audience of the journal is and how they are going to use it. Given the academic system, evaluators and administrators are among the audience and the appointment and promotions system is part of how it is used. So producing good journals requires thinking about the academic systems in which the journals exist.

In the first place, journals are aimed at scholars interested in advancing the discussion about such-and-so. So, to more charitably read the original question, one can worry that editors are concerned too much about the academic system. The political reality means that editors should think a lot about it, though.

Open access


The fact that journal articles are part of an ongoing discussion underscores the value of open access publishing. Simply put, a more accesible article is more likely to be available and be read in places where it can make a difference. To their credit, most of the editors in the roundtable voice support for open access. Theoria itself is an OA journal.

One strange dissent is from Vincent Hendricks. Discussing the case in his own country, he says:
[The Danes] are introducing an interesting angle on open access. The idea is to have all Danish research articles included in a database, which is basically an open access database belonging to the state. Since the money for the research is paid by the state, everybody should have access to the database. Of course, there is a potential clash here between the state on one hand and, say, the journals on the other. There's no way Springer is going to publish papers that have already been published on a state-controlled website. If researchers have to put up their publications on a state-owned database, then nobody is going to publish their papers anyway. I doubt that those who decided this have any idea what they are getting their hands into.

I call this 'strange' because it describes open access in some bizarro universe. There are already funding agencies that require open access publishing (e.g. the Wellcome Trust circa 2004) and it's not a novel Danish innovation. Contra Hendricks' insistence, a requirement to put papers in a central database is compatible with later publishing in a journal. In physics, almost every new paper is placed in a public archive (the arXiv) even when it later appears in a traditional journal. Somehow physics journals survive at publishers including Springer.

The most charitable interpretation is that Hendricks just doesn't know any of this. He coedits Synthese, a philosophy journal, so perhaps developments in physics and biomedicine just haven't shown up on his radar. Yet, for reasons I suggested above, part of his responsibility as editor is to think about the broader context.**

The less charitable interpretation is that he does know about the developments in physics and biomedicine but conveniently overlooks them. Commercial publishers do this when they argue that open access would destroy academic publishing. Paranoia about open access is probably the narrative encouraged by Springer itself.*** Even though Springer could survive in an open access world, there is more money to be made if they can go on exploiting free labour and a captive market.


* I am here setting aside any value that writing the journal might have for the writers and editors themselves. Although they may derive some benefit from the process, it's incidental to academic publishing.
** Hendricks would disagree with the argument above, I think. He says in response to the question from the floor: "We have to produce good journals. That's all I really have to say about that."
*** There is some reason to suspect that the editors of Synthese are corporate toadies. I don't want this to be another post about the Synthese debacle, though... oops.

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Go for the gold 
Open Access (OA) publication seems like a no-brainer for scholarly articles. We are not paid directly for our writing; we act from the altruistic motive of adding to human knowledge and from the selfish motive of furthering our own careers. Both motives are thwarted if the articles are locked up in expensive journals that only a few scholars can access. From the side of human knowledge, we contribute best to the ongoing conversation if people can actually read what we write. From the side of publishing to avoid perishing, open access publications are cited more than comparable closed access publications.

OK, but which OA? There are two primary models:

Green OA relies on authors making their papers available on the web - on their own websites, on institutional repositories, and on disciplinary repositories. Some worry that this will destroy for-profit journals and the services that they (arguably) provide. However, physics went the route of green OA years ago; preprints of most physics papers are available on arXiv, but the feared journal argmageddon has not occurred.

Gold OA requires authors* to pay when their paper is published; the paper is then made available free on-line. This allows journals to make at least as much money as they have been making, providing whatever services they have (arguably) been providing.

[EDIT: As Kai von Fintel points out, this is misleading. There are non-profit Gold OA journals which don't charge author-side fees at all. What I say below does not apply to those commendable journals. Rather, the worry below is that Gold OA only introduces new problems so long as journals are produced by for-profit publishers.]

One may worry, of course, that Gold OA could just be a money pump for publishers. A few recent data points:

1. Bentham has founded OA journals for dozens of disciplines, giving them uninventive titles of the form The Open X Journal for all X.

Philip Davis submitted a 'nonsense manuscript' to The Open Information Science Journal. That paper was titled 'Deconstructing Access Points', and it was generated by an algorithm which randomly filled sentence schemata with computer science jargon. Davis offered it under the guise of two fictional scholars working at the equally fictional Center for Research in Applied Phrenology.

Sadly, it was accepted. Davis declined to pay the publication fee. Bentham later claimed that it knew all along that the paper was a hoax but accepted it so as to unmask the hoaxers.

Davis describes the hoax, and Peter Suber provides a good round-up of the aftermath.

2. In April, I received an e-mail inviting me to consider being on the editorial board for The Open Philosophy Journal.** The invitiation said, with the emphasis of several surrounding asterisks, "In order to ensure that the Editorial Board of the journal consists of potential productive members, it is expected that each board member publishes one article each year in the journal."

Summoning up emphasis of my own, I replied: "I frequently review papers for journals, and I am a proponent of open access. So I am interested in the Bentham Open journal project. However, it is ridiculous to suggest that every member of the editorial board should publish in the journal every year. It would be the worst kind of academic incest, and I can't think of any legitimate journal that operates in this way."

The prompt, polite response was that annual publication was "expected... but... not mandatory" and that Bentham looked forward to receiving my CV. They either entirely missed or decided to ignore the part where I accused them of being crooked. I had even used the word 'incest', because it should have the inescapable connotation of moral censure.***

So Bentham Open looks pretty dodgy to me. Even if it is not, Gold OA invites dodginess.

3. Traditional publisher Elsevier published promotional material that looked like journals. At the behest of pharmaceutical paymaster Merck, it put together six different fake journals with titles like Australasian Journal of Neurology and distributed them to doctors. Admittedly, these fake journals reprinted articles rather than publishing original research. Considering just the balance sheet, however, the model for Elsevier was the same as the Gold OA model: Get paid to put articles in a publication and give the publication away.

Recall that Green OA is met with the worry that it will blow up the for-profit publishing establishment. One wonders whether that would be a bad thing.


* For scientists working under grants, the costs for gold OA publication would be added into the budget for the grant. For scholars affiliated with universities, their institution could pony up the money - this cost would be balanced by savings in library budgets. Woe unto us who don't get grants and who work at institutions where library budgets are already being slashed.
** Not to overstate things, I was invited to consider "possible nomination to the Editorial Board Membership of the journal"; ie, they were willing to look at my CV.
*** Does it not have that connotation anymore? Should I instead have said, "That is the way Hitler would have run a journal"?

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