One feature of the new AAA website is a “special issue of Anthropology News dedicated to Open Access”:http://dev.aaanet.org/publications/articles.cfm. If you want to read these pieces I suggest you download them while you can, since after 1 March they will be “archived” in AnthroSource, among other places.
— i.e. disappeared behind a pay wall.
This is, however, a big if. The good news is that Open Access is no longer the purview of the edgy blog set — professional AAA politicos now take the idea seriously. The bad news is that this special issue is, most likely, a safety valve for people to express ideas in such a way that they will have no actual traction amongst those who make the decisions.
There are reasons for this other than tinfoil-hat-type speculations that some black-robed cabal read some Radcliffe-Brown at a recent dark coven in the bowels of the Arlington office and decided to create an institution that would move the association back to what they ominously refer to as ‘the goal state’ — although personally I don’t think we should dismiss this hypothesis.
Seriously, though, while there was some progress in this issue, we still have a long way to go.
First, the photos. Remember how charging us for AN is supposed to result in high-quality ‘product’ in excess of the feeble amateur theatrics of the open access community? I have met every one of these authors with the exception of Lee Baker, and I can attest that they are all quite easy on the eyes. These are the least flattering photos I have ever seen of these people. sigh….
Secondly, the articles seem to revolve around issues that we have already discussed before. Lee Baker points out that OA is in accordance with our professional ethics and a “goal worth working towards” that will require “will require strong, and inclusive leadership”. This sentiment comes from a member of the “Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing” which was, ironically, completely uninvolved with the Wiley-Blackwell deal. I agree with Baker as far as he goes, but then again so does everyone else in principle.
Don Brenneis’s article warns us that “there are very real costs in terms of time, judgment, tact and technical expertise.” To the extent that he is arguing with someone here, it is clearly a strawman. As I point out in my article “With A Business Model Like This, Who Needs Enemies?”:http://alex.golub.name/res/writing/Golub2007b.pdf no serious open access advocate thinks you produce zero-cost publications like Moses making water from a stone. The devil, as my article says, is in the details. Which Brenneis agrees with.
Less impressive is his worry about “devaluation of peer review” as a result of OA. This bizarre fear that OA might, somehow, lead to the devaluation of peer review is the kind of idea that you could only believe if you are new to these debates or spent too much time drinking martinis with your Elsevier sales rep. OA is an ideal about the dissemination of research, not a rethinking of whether or not we ought to peer review that research.
Chris Kelty points out very clearly that any idea that peer review would be effected by OA is spurious. “OA,” Kelty points out, “is supposed to be about making really good research really widely available.” And in fact as an OA advocate Kelty is also very clear the financial issues are not dodged by some sort of utopian OA assumptions of ‘zero costs’ but rather directly address the coupling between finance and political power. “The governance and sustainability
issues facing AAA are one and the same,” he points out.
Melissa Cefkin’s article takes up this issue in some detail by arguing that what is needed is “a comprehensive reexamination of publishing and other services within AAA at large” including such basic things as section memberships and what, exactly, our dues are for. Her discussion of these issues, and the distinction between products and services is in some way a fleshing out of the themes in Kelty’s article.
These are all very good ideas (I’m skipping Cross’s essay here because it is sort of introductory — but I don’t mean to slight it. Its a nice over view) but where exactly do they leave us? So far we have:
- OA is a good idea in theory
- We worry about how we will pay for it or indeed for any of our publications
- Now is a good time to rethink these issues
- What is really needed is a wide-ranging change to governance and our institutional structures.
This all sounds great. True, it is exactly what we were saying a year ago, but it is now being said by people who serve on AAA committees. So I suppose that counts as progress. But the endpoint of these deliberations is the question of what, specifically we are going to do now to these institutions.
Not only do none of these columns address these issues, there is little point in them doing so, since this sort of change — actual, meaningful change — is something that very, very few people inside the AAA are licensed to undertake. The fact that the ‘Committee on the Future Of Print and Electronic Publishing’ were not serious partners in the Wiley-Blackwell discussion is sign enough of that.
Cefkin argues that now is a good time for us to rethink some basic assumptions about our association, but of course it is always a good time to contemplate these issues if there is no time at which they might actually be acted on. Safety-valve deliberation in AN make us feel that we are engaging these issues. But until they move off the page and into our actually existing power structure they will ultimately be little more than a safety valve to let our discontent exhaust itself.
A year ago (almost) I argued that “this means talking with each other about the effect that AnthroSource and the outsourcing of our production processes has had on our membership. It means demanding accountability and transparency from our staff. It means asking our leaders to lead. It means rolling up our sleeves and having a public discussion about the economics of publishing in the AAA which asks hard questions and is not satisfied with easy answers.”
So far we are still talking about talking about it.