News: AAA Response about Public Access to Scholarly Publications

I just read about this news this morning (thanks to the wonders of email).  The American Anthropological Association recently published its comments to the Request for Information (RFI) from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) about the state of affairs when it comes to public access to scholarly publication.  All of the responses are here, and the AAA response is #282.  That’s right, scroll down and have a look at number two hundred and eighty two.  It’s worth it.

But, in case you don’t feel like scrolling right now, how about a couple of nice selections from the AAA response:

We write today to make the case that while we share the mutual objective of enhancing the public understanding of scientific enterprise and support the wide dissemination of materials that can reach those in the public who would benefit from such knowledge (consistent with our association’s mission), broad public access to information currently exists, and no federal government intervention is currently necessary.


We know of no research that demonstrates a problem with the existing system for making the content of scholarly journals available to those who might benefit from it.

Emphasis mine in both cases.  Take the time to check out the comments, which you can download as a PDF and share with your friends and colleagues (just an idea).  Comments?  Thoughts?


Update: Here is the direct link to the PDF of the AAA comment.

Update II: A few reactions from around the web:

Daniel Lende: American Anthropological Association Takes Public Stand Against Open Access

Dienekes Pontikos: The American Anthropological Association opposes open science

Michael E. Smith: American Anthropological Association joins the dark side of the force (with appropriate imagery)

Update III: For some background on what’s wrong with the RWA, check out this post by Barbara Fister

Update IV: Kristina Killgrove makes an excellent point about grad students who find themselves outside of the system, here.



Ryan Anderson is a cultural and environmental anthropologist. His current research focuses on coastal conservation, sustainability, and development in the Californias. He also writes about politics, economics, and media. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.

7 thoughts on “News: AAA Response about Public Access to Scholarly Publications

  1. It seems that they looked at surveys of current researchers and AAA members and determined that none of them have access problems. Do they really believe that our research should only be accessible to people with current university affiliations? Even recent PhD grads still looking for work are left out, not to mention the vast majority of those who participate in and collaborate with our research. Is there anything we can do to counter this official AAA statement?

  2. For many researchers there is nothing to be gained by open access; they already have the attention of those who control the funding and publications, and that is their measure of success. While usually unspoken, many people are concerned about public reaction to fully revealed details of what they are doing with their funding (Federal, State or other). It’s safest to live behind short abstracts. Tenure attracts and rewards the risk-averse, and more access means greater risk.

    Their position is so absurd, it refutes itself. You can’t claim you care about socially responsible research and teaching, and simultaneously restrict access to your work. This change will come despite academic resistance. Ignore them, talk to your representatives. If federally-funded research is forced into open access, the restricted access system will collapse.

  3. @J Mason:

    Excellent points. The “public” the AAA has in mind is seriously reductionist, which is pretty ironic for a document coming from an anthropological association. I think you’re asking the right question here: What are we all gonna do about this?

    @Richard R:

    “Their position is so absurd, it refutes itself. You can’t claim you care about socially responsible research and teaching, and simultaneously restrict access to your work.”

    It is absurd. I’m still amazed this came from the AAA. But, maybe I shouldn’t be…

  4. This situation is ironic. As anthropology programs are being closed in universities to control budgets, and as foreign language programs are also under threat for a variety of reasons, it makes good sense to work very hard to communicate to our peers in STM and other university disciplines the timeliness and relevance of anthropology in terms of the ways we approach “thinking about the world,” the ways we work comparatively, and our understandings of particular problems. We also need to reflect on Mead’s wisdom about speaking in language that others understand. We haven’t really had a public ambassador from anthropology since Mead and Leakey. STM has been funding outreach like crazy. I believe that the challenges of globalization and population make this an important time for anthropological work and that this work needs to be shared outside the academy in ways that it can be understood. Yet we risk being downsized out of existence because our universities and our publics have no idea what we really do. Not digging dinosaurs, not artifact robbing in a cool hat and carrying a whip and a gun, and not on an extended vacation in an exotic locale.

  5. I recently completed applications for admission to doctoral programs in anthropology. I have spent the last year reading, attending lectures/conferences, and thinking about which discipline to pursue and where to apply. (I have been out of university for several years now.) The application process itself is expensive enough with test fees, application fees, transcript fees, travel for interviews/meetings, etc. It’s absurd that I had to pay for access to some articles I felt were necessary reading as I made my decisions about where to apply and as I pulled together my personal statements. I live in a major city where we have a fantastic public library system, and I make full use of my library card. Yet the only way for me to access some of the articles I felt that I needed to read was by paying for them. Academia and the publishing houses shut out not only non-academics but also aspiring ones. Access is not broad enough, and those of us who “might benefit from” scholarly journals absolutely DO have a problem with the existing system.

    I agree with what Ed Carr and others have said about senior academics changing the landscape, but I’m not holding my breath on that front. I believe the next generation of anthropologists has a role to play as well. If we don’t cave in completely to our fears of not obtaining a desirable tenure-track position, perhaps we will find space to explore alternative models of publishing our work. What use is our work if the only people who read it are other anthropologists? Perhaps I am not representative of the norm, but I would far rather go to bed at night knowing that a community has been able to use the results of my work to improve some aspect of people’s lives. Frankly, one of my career goals is to be able to produce material that is accessible to a wide range of audiences who are interested in social justice. Open source and 2.0 approaches are taking hold in the technology and NGO sectors. Academia should take note.

    Sometimes when you’re so deeply entrenched in a paradigm or when you’re so far down a particular path, you fail to see alternatives. Yet the alternatives are always there.

  6. @jre:

    Thanks for these comments.

    “Sometimes when you’re so deeply entrenched in a paradigm or when you’re so far down a particular path, you fail to see alternatives. Yet the alternatives are always there.”

    Absolutely…and I agree with you that there are always alternatives, even if many people don’t see them (or want to see them). Also, if there aren’t enough alternatives, well, we’ll just have to make them!

    Thanks again.

  7. The official position announced on the AAA blog seem to be aiming for a middle ground. “AAA opposes any Congressional legislation which, if it were enacted, imposes a blanket prohibition against open access publishing policies by all federal agencies.”

    As I read it, the Executive Director opposes mandating open access, while the Executive Board opposes prohibiting open access.

    Shooting for the middle is perhaps inevitable, given that the AAA sees itself on one hand as representing the readers of anthropology literature and on the other hand its publishers.

    This is actually a bit of a false middle, though, since I don’t know of anyone actually proposing a blanket prohibition on open access. In the end, it is basically a vote for the status quo.

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