So much for open access: AnthroSource Steering Committee liquidated by AAA

The latest edition of Peter Suber’s SOAN Newsletter is out and includes some coverage of the AnthroSource Steering Committee’s opposition to the AAA’s support of FRPAA. Given this fact and Kerim’s call for an open access event at AAA, I figured it was time for an update on the ASSC’s progress in this regard…

I finally got the memo on 30 October making official what we knew was coming: The AnthroSource Steering Committee (ASSC) has officially been disbanded and will be replaced by the new “Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing.” There were lots of problems with the ASSC — it’s relationship to the finance committee and sections was never spelled out, for instance. But it is transparently obvious to everyone involved why the ASSC was replaced: as one member of the committee put it (not me) “we were all given pink slips soon after we pushed for FRPAA.” We are all, every one of us, tremendously disappointed in this decision.

Don’t look for the Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing to be looking to the future very much — their job is old school indeed: to figure out how to maximize the profits of the AAA’s publishing program. Not that this is a bad thing — the AAA has been losing money for a long time and AnthroSource has only been able to meet its target for earnings by consistently revising down its expectations. We certainly need a sustainable model for publishing to keep our publications afloat. And, to be sure, it is probably just the nature of scholarly publishing that it is perpetually in crisis in just this way. But there is no doubt in my mind that the AAA’s move to turn its back on the organization that was supposed to innovate its way out of this financial impasse reflects its Weapons of Mass Destruction business model: We’re sure the profits are around here somewhere. They have to be. We know they are. We just have to keep on doing what we’ve always been doing and ignore all those people who are suggesting that there might be workable alternatives to our current strategy.

If I had the time (and energy) I’d write a multi-part entry called “How the AAA Does Business” which documents the process by which the AAA endorsed and then canned the committee. Some of this sort of thing is truly sophomoric. ASSC’s opposition to FRPAA was strong and immediate: our letter of opposition to the AAA’s support for the bill was sent to the AAA on 8 August 2006. The AAA then proceeded to sit on it for almost two months. Finally on 29 September I told the AAA that if they would not publish the letter themselves I would post it on Savage Minds. It appeared Wednesday of the next week. Examples of this sort of thing — which,to be fair, will demonstrate to some people my impatience rather than the inertia of the AAA machine — could be multiplied.

But overall I don’t think I’ll write the piece. Like everyone else on the ASSC I feel like it’s time to move on and find an organization which does more than just pay lip service to innovation. Hopefully the “Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing” will prove my low opinion of the AAA bureaucracy wrong. But I doubt it.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

4 thoughts on “So much for open access: AnthroSource Steering Committee liquidated by AAA

  1. Wow, I’m shocked but not suprised… if that makes sense. I lost a lot faith in the AAA when they ssued their statement earlier this year but was relieved with news you shared about the AnthroSource Steering Comittee contesting it. All in all, I’m sorry to hear, about this new that but I agree with your words… it is time to move on!

  2. I was thinking whether, in pushing for Open Access Anthropology we want to stick to publishing models, or whether we should also push for ways of making the AAA administration more democratic and transparent as well … would that get more people excited about the project, or would it could the issue? From your post, it seems that the two are connected.

  3. Thanks for publicizing these sad details. (I’ll blog them at Open Access News shortly.) I hope the AAA membership understands what just happened to a committee that tried to stand up for the interests of the membership.

    In your fourth paragaph, you refer to the ASSC’s opposition to the bill and AAA’s support for it. I believe these should be reversed. ASSC supported FRPAA (which supports open access) and AAA opposed it. This is just to clarify for readers who want to pick up where ASSC left off: the idea is to support FRPAA (and open access), not oppose it.

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