How do we mobilize anthropologists to support open access?

We’ve been here before.

We’ve tried to explain why it is important.

We’ve written a lot about it.

But nothing seems to have changed.

What can we do to make anthropologists care about open access? To make them care what the AAA says about open access?

[This is an open thread for constructive suggestions about how mobilize for open access, not a place to rehash old debates about the merits of open access. Thanks!]

32 thoughts on “How do we mobilize anthropologists to support open access?

  1. As I see it, the only ones who can help us are the senior scholars. Stop publishing in AAA journals. Stop peer reviewing for AAA journals. Then, move all of your efforts to open access movements. Those associations miffed that they lost all their good scholars can start open access [preferably open source] journals, in collaboration with young, up and coming scholars.

    Two problems fixed: generational divide and greedy publication companies… I mean ignorant professional associations.

  2. I read with great displeasure the AAA commentary on open access. They surveyed professionals in the field – which for us generally means folks working at a university – and surprise! They all have access to the research. People, please, that’s because you work at a university! Shouldn’t anthros know how to conduct research better than that? There is such a cry for a more public anthropology but how can there be when we hide the results of our research behind paywalls? What are we afraid of – or what are we ashamed of? I couldn’t do much of the applied work I do without that access to other voices in research, and yet if I were to leave the tower to do it I wouldn’t have that same access.

    What is the answer? I wish I knew. I have no suggestions, brilliant or otherwise. Cancel my membership and become a movement of one? Cancel my membership and lose access to recent writings in anthro (have you ever searched for something on Anthrosource? Bah). But something must be done. When someone steps up with a plan, I’ll be in the trenches.

  3. @Bryce:

    “As I see it, the only ones who can help us are the senior scholars.”

    I agree that the senior scholars can certainly play a key role, but I think that doing something about this is going to require cooperation among scholars at all levels. After all, without the work produced by scholars at all levels (from senior scholars all the way to new PhD’s and graduate students), these publishers basically have nothing. As long as everyone keeps handing everything over, this whole thing can persist. Maybe it’s about time to stop.

    So I agree with you–I just think we need everyone on board to actually do something about this.

  4. An evil thought. How about a citation boycott? In so far as tenure and promotion increasingly depend not just on publication but how often what we write is cited, a movement by younger scholars and fellow travelers to avoid citation of material that appears in non-Open Source journals and to aggressively cite material that does appear in Open Source journals would strike at the jugular, would it not?

  5. That’s an interesting idea, John.

    Some other possibilities:

    1. Stop supporting the AAA until they come to their senses
    2. Write a counter letter to the AAA (maybe with a petition?)
    3. Stop supporting AAA publications
    4. Work to develop a repository where we can post working papers (like what economists use) and find ways to keep work available despite what AAA decides
    5. Work with other anthro organizations who are not taking this position (like the SCA?)
    6. Stop taking part in the current system and pretending that there’s nothing we can do about the way things are. As long as a large swath of people think that “nothing can be done,” well, nothing probably will get done.

    Just some ideas.

  6. 1.Reviewers may want to ask subscription journals $200 for each review and donate 25% to open-access journals.

    2.Libraries should ask departments to make a list of the highest quality journals to support, including open-access ones and invest their budget accordingly.

    3.The system will remain, companies’ profit will drastically decline and open-access journals will thrive. Quality of open access journals will be guaranteed by the competition for library funds with subscription journals.

    Starting successful open-access journals is the best possible rebuttal. Alda Merini, an Italian poet once wrote: “The best revenge? Happiness. Nothing drives people more crazy than seeing you happy”

  7. I think we need to tackle it another way- people won’t do what’s right if its hard but will do what ever is easiest. You have to make it so open access is supper easy to publish in and the benefits well outweigh that of closed door publishing- we are trying this with (sorry other three fields one is already too much) with a search engine to find open access, database of journals to publish in or follow, social media. Our goal is to make it so everyone reads more open access which will lead to higher citations/rankings which means people will flock to OA. At that is the thought we have a long road ahead but we think the concept is right- make it easier to find, read, and publish in and the rest will be taken care of its self (with a few papers demonstrating that you get more citations in OA then normal, better for your career, etc. once the data is there). At least that is the thought now.

  8. I am afraid Doug but that whilst noble, your proposal may lead to criticism about the lower quality of open acces journals. What worries junior and brilliant scholars (they’re the future) is finding a job or a fellowship and they could never afford publishing in a low-rank journal, they would either look at the Impact Factor (or the H-index) or the prestige of a journal. Remember Munn’s Fame of Gawa, one constructs value by sharing and hosting but one must offer powerful/delicious food. High production quality, strong peer-review process and a great intellectual agenda are essential to further the cause of open-access. The great things about the Open Journal System software (free) which manages journal like HAU is that all articles are indexed on Google Scholar hence even H-index can be calculated for each article.

    I forgot another alternative to paid reviews. Discount Vouchers. Reviewers get US$200 discount vouchers from publishers. Vouchers can be given by reviewers to their own university libraries to pay subscriptions. University libraries saved funds can be invested on open-access.

  9. Good point Giovanni and one we hope to address. First, I would like to point out there are several OA journals that rank better then publisher journals on IF or H-index. That being said all rankings of journals are pretty close to crap. They rank a bundle which creates averages. Look at a journal issue and you will see the long tail. 1 article really well cited, 1 or 2 cited once, and more then half not cited at all. Not saying it is going to be easy (commercial publishers put out most of the rankings) but create a system that ranks a scholar’s work and not the article he/she was lucky enough to be put next to and you will see changes.

  10. You’re right. I wasn’t supporting the value of indexing but that junior scholars needs to publish in “recognized” journals to get a job. Indeed, you could build a fantastic journal without impact factors but you’d still need to deal with reputation and fame.

  11. The senior scholars of today are the young scholars of yesterday. The commonality is intense pressure to compete and get tenure, which is not achieved by serious boat-rocking. The solution is going to come from the outside. If you are a US citizen, contact your representatives and let them know that your professional opinion is that federal-funded research should be published only in open-access journals. Add that common sense and public sentiment dictate such a standard. If federally-funded research is shifted to open-access, the journal system will change or die. Think of it as similar to IRBs and financial policies at research institutions. Universities are meticulous about maintaining standards that meet federal regs, and they tend to require those standards of all projects, federally-funded or not.

  12. Alternative to the idea of opting out of the current system: create a slate of viable candidates to run for top offices in the AAA on an open access platform while mobilizing the membership to vote our party into power. Then once we’ve got loud enough voice at the high table put pressure on the Executive Director to reverse course or take steps to have him replaced by another director.

  13. I third Matt Thompson’s idea, and second Giovanni’s discussion of the need for ‘quality indicators’ in open access publishing. New journals will not easily show up on ISI, but they can come through on Google Scholar, and if you get a free profile, you can get article-specific citation information. It’s only number of citations, but it may get around the anxiety caused by publishing in ‘lower profile’ journals, especially for early career researchers.

    A couple of other things we can do:
    1) Start citing alternative outlets in our articles, not just the high profile journals in our fields. The fact that people tell me that my blog post was helpful in writing an article, but then I don’t see it cited, is a pet peeve, and I think we need to start giving credit to these channels of publication. As they cross over more and more and get cited, it will help to decrease the monopoly of prestige owned by the journals.

    2) Start posting early copies of journal articles online, on sites like, even if they are in the gray area of legality (sorry Jason, but it’s peaceful protest). If you get a desist order, calmly explain that you thought you were in the right because of the difficulty of understanding the author agreement and take it down. In the meantime, it’s already cached somewhere.

    3) Cite, cite, cite the existing OA journals! Rank and prestige are related to citation rates, so cite journals that have policies you support. This is the flipside of John’s suggestion and will drive up the impact factor of progressive journals so that they are more attractive for all of us as outlets for our work.

    At the moment, I’m still seething. I’m working right now on a project for one of the AAA journals, and it may be my last one for a while. As I wrote on Daniel’s post at Neuroanthropology, this letter isn’t just wrong or dumb, it’s retrograde.

  14. Librarians need to cancel or suspend subscriptions to titles published by RWA backers. Prestigious open access journals will emerge quickly.

  15. I also support Matt’s suggestion. I was disappointed with the AAA/Science issues a year ago, and my response was simply to become more involved in the organization by giving a talk at this past year’s meeting, co-organizing a proposed session for next year’s meeting, and putting myself up for an at-large position in the BAS section of AAA. I wish AAA’s decision had come earlier so I could have made opposition to it part of my platform statement.

  16. As an up and coming academic, I’d be willing to put my career on the line and submit articles to only OA journals. I say this in part because I have a strong feeling that those who would be evaluating my credentials would understand the value of OA publishing and recognize the value of my scholarship no matter what journal it was published in. I know not everyone in my position is so confident, but I’m an optimist, I suppose. However, I don’t even know what OA journals are out there and how good they are. Is there a list somewhere that we can consult and point our colleagues in order to show what’s available?

  17. @Matt Thompson:

    Matt, you are a genius. I think your suggestion is right on the mark.


    “As an up and coming academic, I’d be willing to put my career on the line and submit articles to only OA journals.”

    EXACTLY! Why even think about publishing with any of the non-OA journals when there are all these problems, politics, and issues? I have been thinking along the same lines as you Jeremy, and have the same questions about you when it comes to WHICH OA journals to go for. There was some discussion about this here on SM a couple months ago, and Jason Jackson provided some good tips about which OA journals to check out. I’ll dig into that and maybe we can start putting some sort of overview together. What do you think? I like this idea.


    I like the idea of posting somewhere like, or something similar. What about trying to get more anthros on the SSRN (link)? Would that be possible? I really like how people post pre-press/working papers there. I am all for helping to look into something like this.

  18. I think Brad Weiss (see comment at Neuroanthropology, link below) is on to something:

    “Each [AAA] section that publishes collects DUES, and some of that funding could readily be used to subsidize open access publishing, esp.if it is entirely virtual, and sections work together to share the costs of maintaining a portal.”

    I think sections such as the Society for Medical Anthropology who have a number of researchers familiar with the NIH open access repository model might be particularly open to this sort of action, yet their leadership remains silent as far as I can tell.

  19. Thanks for all the wonderful comments. I think there are a lot of great ideas about how to make Open Access succeed, but my fear is that most people in the AAA don’t know, understand or care about OA. Many of these solutions seem to presuppose that everyone in the AAA cares as much about OA as the readers of this blog, and I don’t think that is the case. Even if people read and link to HAU – will they realize or understand that it is based on a different publishing paradigm? I’m not so sure… Some good survey data might help us get a grasp of what people know/think/feel about OA among the broader membership, but that would be a big undertaking. Still, I think we should be finding ways to make OA an issue that everyone cares about enough to do all the things people have suggested.

  20. Kerim —
    Possibly. If they don’t know about it, do we educate them? How about a flyer to be distributed WIDELY at the next AAA meetings in SF and to our own departments?

    Maybe the headline could be, ‘The AAA Exec wants to make sure your research doesn’t get out of university libraries, unless Wiley-Blackwell gets PAID!’

    I don’t want to make it too personal, but they came out and spoke in our names…

  21. @Lowie – getting the sections to band together to share in the upkeep of a portal or OA venue is not a feasible option. (1) The sections do not actually hold their own money, the AAA holds it for them and they have to request that the Association disperse it. We can’t assume that the AAA would give out collected dues to pursue ends that are directly against its stated policies. (2) The sections don’t really have a good track record of cooperation. Furthermore there is a great deal of inequality in terms of their prestige, membership size, and financial resources: SCA isn’t going to let SOLGA tell them what to do, AES doesn’t follow ALLA. The big boys are going to want to be in the drivers seat and, frankly, they’re more conservative and cautious than the smaller groups.

    I think the best recourse for advocates of OA is to support existing OA venues (like Hau) or to start new venues outside the umbrella of the AAA… unless we can somehow change the AAA from the inside. Given the renewed contract with Wiley and today’s statements from the Executive Director its obvious that the support just isn’t there. Unless the membership pushes back or the rank-and-file start caring about OA, I would anticipate that it will be this way for the foreseeable future.

    But the idea that the same sections that have print deals with Wiley and that never have anything to do with one another in their business meetings will somehow band together and support OA against the AAA’s wishes when the AAA holds the purse strings is highly improbable.

  22. @Matt – Thank you for this astute analysis. What do you think of the prospects of changing the AAA from the inside as you had suggested? Can you see a feasible timetable for electoral takeover and might that work? Or are the alternative venues the best approach?

  23. @Jason – In order to get the AAA to change course we would have to address the Executive Board not the sections.

    One way we could do that would be to recruit and nominate associate professors at name-brand institutions who are, at least, well known to the small cohort that comprises their subfield. This will be difficult for many reasons: (1) most folks don’t like committee work, they would rather pursue their own agendas like research, so there won’t be a lot of enthusiastic candidates out there; (2) while our number one issue is OA the Executive Board has to do a hundred and one other things, so even if you did find some knights in shining armor to send off to do battle they’d wind up investing a lot of their time doing non-OA related business; (3) although Bill, the Executive Director, is unpopular in some circles he’s a bit like a City Manager – being unpopular is in his job description – and nobody wants to really go through the hassle of hiring a new director, think of how hard it is to get 10-30 faculty to agree on a hire, now imagine that scaled out to the entire AAA and you get the picture; (4) once you get your team on the Executive Board its still up to the President to make appointments to the communications committee which has authority over the publications committee, and the only people they put on the publications committee are people who have actual editorial and managerial experience in the publishing industry.

    So in conclusion an electoral approach would be a kind of high risk (in terms of energy and attention), low gain (in terms of probable outcome) sort of venture. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, but that, realistically, the type of change we’re imagining is going to be generational. If we could get a sympathetic ear on the Executive Board (the student seat, even) then we could start to plant the seed of the idea, a seed which could, over the course of years, take root and start to grow – this, perhaps more than REVOLUTION, is what we’ll wind up with.

    The black box, the unknown, is still: who do you recruit to run? It’s not really clear to me what motivates scholars to make this commitment. Is it just a feather in their cap? Is the feeling, “Well somebody’s got to do it,” and now is their turn to offer service? Or do they have a vision and want to mold the Association to that?

    And then there’s the electorate. The rank-and-file who vote (or don’t) and what motivates them to chose one candidate over another. Is it just a popularity contest? If it is, could we make into something else with a space like Savage Minds engaging in the electoral process? Anyone who has actually sat down to read the potted statements candidates make on the ballots could tell you there’s got to be a better way for membership to engage the board. Maybe we should start to “cover” the AAA elections like they matter, because apparently they do.

  24. Hi Matt,

    Many thanks again for this comprehensive and insightful picture.

    There are definitely structural impediments, but as you allude in your last paragraph, one possible advantage is we are dealing with a relatively small organization and what must be a limited number of votes.

    I’m now checking out the AAA open leadership positions. We of course are way past the nomination deadline of October 2011, but certainly as voting nears we could ask for additional statements on Open Access from candidates to the relevant position. Those could be posted–along with the “potted” statements, to be fair–so there might be a concerted electoral push on these issues.

  25. 2 ideas:

    1) What about trying to pass a resolution at the annual business meeting? We could target committees and sub-divisions of the organization that would likely be in support of Open Access (like NAPA and the Interest Group on NGOs and Non-Profits) ahead of time, to get more folks involved and on board. Even if we can’t get folks to pass it, it would get the attention of more members.

    2) I also mentioned to some folks in the past (after the last #AAAFail) that perhaps we should create an Interest Group for Anthropology Online. What about a Digital Anthropology Interest Group, made up of people interested in Open Access and Public Discourse? If we create an interest group we can build up and get ourselves a place at the table.

    You need 225 people to start a section, so an Interest Group, which only needs 25, seems like the easier starting point. Being an interest group would also give us the authority to hold a ‘special event’ at the annual meeting, in addition to sessions. Would could use that as an opportunity to organize and be seen.

  26. There are a lot of wonderful suggestions here. It’s heartening to see such a cry for OA, an issue that’s been dear to my heart since I first entered the field.

    Notwithstanding legal gray areas, I think there are some more radical (as in avant-garde, not anarchical – though I could be convinced to see merit in the latter too) ideas to consider. One of my favorite websites is the Open Anthropology Cooperative (OAC), and another is

    One thing the field is missing, I think – and I mean no slight to any of the great blogs and sites in existence – is a recognized (branded?) waypoint on the web. Think ArXiv,, etc. I think a UX/UI-savvy repository would be a very good thing. It is, presumably, a years-long project, but quite possibly a worthy one.

    Media programs would be another good way to cover relevant research openly. For example, Seattle has an all-online radio station (that may one day be supplemented by a lo-power FM), and though it’s volunteer-run, I’ll be starting up a regular ethnomusicology feature, where I cite and recount work as it relates to musical genres/styles/cultures. And you can bet it will be OA stuff. Also, while I’m there, it can be a good time to talk about the issue.

    Which reminds me, have you written your campus newspaper lately? As with so many things, this issue may still be pretty insular to anthropologists, though clearly other fields feel similarly.

    And does anyone want to take lead on starting up the Open Access Anthropology Conference? It can be held in the city of your choosing. Or it can tag along with other existing conferences/festivals (has anyone pitched a SXSW panel?). It can happen once a quarter, once a year, or what have you. But the conference exists as both the issue and the forum.

    One other thought it a more dedicated publishing source – online, or in print – but distributed widely and on donation (not subscription). This format works well for community tabloids and large format magazines alike (The Sun, Adbusters). In that, curated blog posts, relevant reviews and up-and-coming OA research is all mixed in. Photos too.

    OA is exciting, and we’re the ones holding all the magic formulae here – I am curious indeed to watch some of the turns ahead for the field.

    And thanks for the opportunity to share some of these thoughts.


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