SSCI and Open Access

I was very impressed to read this blog post by Jeremy Trombley:

As an up and coming academic, I’m willing to put my career on the line and promise to only publish in open access journals. Putting my career on the line is a very real threat, since many departments look for publications in key (generally not open access) journals such as American Anthropologist when hiring. However, I’m confident that the people who will be evaluating me will overlook those issues if they understand why I made this choice, and will evaluate my work on its own merits and not on the journal that publishes it.

I wish I could do the same, but unfortunately I can’t and I wish to share the reason why. The fact is that in much of the world (and in the US as well) there has been a move towards quantification in determining academic promotion and tenure. Taiwan, where I live and work, is has been particularly bad in this regard, as they struggle to raise the number of Taiwanese universities listed in international university rankings.

Taiwan does not have tenure, but one has a series of mandatory reviews as one proceeds from Assistant to Associate to Full Professor. The guidelines for these reviews are mandated in a very top-down way from the Ministry of Education (MoE) and there is little leeway in how these rules are interpreted at the university level. (One of the legacies of the martial law period in Taiwan is that the personnel office reports directly to the MoE, not the university president.) However, one way in which universities do vary with the official rules is in the informal requirement that professors have a minimum number of publications in SSCI listed journals (or SCI for the sciences). Universities thus compete to make the official rules stricter rather than more flexible.

On a side note, these requirements are interesting because SSCI journals are mostly in English, so Taiwan has created a separate Chinese-language TSSCI list, but they are counted less than the SSCI journals (even though they are often harder to get published in). Taiwan is somewhat unique in having the TSSCI list—universities in Hong Kong and Singapore focus more on SSCI. (Taiwanese academic Albert Tzeng has done some research on this.)

In any case, the problem I face is that I already struggle under the burden that my documentary filmmaking garners me zero points under this quantitative regime. Even book chapters count for very little here. And if the top journals in your field are not SSCI, tough luck. Moreover I don’t know of any SSCI listed Open Access journals in anthropology. I know there are some in other fields, but none that I know of in anthropology. My hope is that HAU will eventually earn this distinction, but that will take some time. Till then, I’m afraid I can’t follow Jeremey’s brave example. To keep my job I have to strive to publish a certain minimum of articles in SSCI publications, after which I will have the freedom to publish elsewhere if I please. I’m sharing this so that OA advocates can be more aware of some of the constraints scholars in other countries might face in submitting work to their journals.

8 thoughts on “SSCI and Open Access

  1. Thanks, Kerim. And I’m glad you pointed out these constraints you and others face. I hope others can take a stand, but for many (most?) It simply wont be possible given the current system. But there are also many ways to act, many of which you and others have already pointed out. Not to mention that your advocacy of the issue over the years is remarkable in itself.

    I was thinking that it might be good to start a site that does three things (maybe more, but three for now): 1) Lists open access journals – just a simple list would do for now, we can add some kind of quality control later, 2) provides a kind of manifesto for open access – why should we support it, and so on, and 3) has a form or something for people who can and want to participate in a kind of boycott. This last could include multiple ways of participating – i.e. “I commit to not offfering peer review services to non-OA journals” or “I commit to not publishing in non-OA journals.” We could then show a tally and maybe some names if people are willing so we can feel more like a movement than lots of lone people ttaking a noble, but fruitless stand.

    Just a thought…

  2. Yeah this is a real problem, as the quantitative ‘audit culture’ becomes increasingly stabilized between the journal sector and the auditing public (whether a ministry or a university), this makes what is already a pretty hard-to-destabilize regime, where we make academic publishers proprietors of our own alienated labor in the form of prestige, even harder to destabilize, because of the creation of stabilized linkages like impact factors and so on. It is clear that the people who can most AFFORD to take this kind of stand are tenured faculty, we can and should take that stand on multiple fronts, both demanding that we are the ultimate arbiters of ‘what counts for what’, and also by refusing to participate in the ongoing system by lending it our names and labor, and also by taking the first step to publish elsewhere. But the sad fact is that most tenured faculty have this system of rewards more hardwired into their psyche, and subsequent rationalizations, than a proverbial Pavlovian dog. (A tenured faculty member I know just made fun of me for making the wildly immature and inscrutable move of disassociating myself from the editorial board of an Elsevier science journal). It’s like trying to teach goldfish to imagiine a world without fishbowls. We do need to start building infrastructures like HAU, but more of them.

  3. Kerim is not alone in lacking all the flexibility as he wants, but those in his shoes do have quite a lot. Here is a possible game plan for those who share the SSCI predicament. Kerim is aware of these dynamics well, so I’ll address a generic colleague.

    If you start by targeting a particular journal on purely scholarly grounds without any consideration of for-profit status, bad corporate citizenship, or open access stance, you can use an author addendum to try to modify your author agreement to allow for various kinds of open access practices, including green OA deposit of the final publisher’s version. Get one in a matter of minutes by searching the web for “scholar’s copyright addendum engine – science commons.”

    In addition to knowing that it is positioned well on the SSCI, you can have chosen that journal on the basis of a knowledge of what the underlying author agreement is going to say. We do not have to wait until acceptance to know a journal’s terms vis-a-vis open access. This is what the SHERPA/RoMEO database is for (also easily found with a web search). This means that even if a publisher rejects your author addendum (in which you aim to retain additional rights to your article–this could be the right to circulate the typeset version, but it could also be the film rights or any number of other rights), you will have chosen the journal because it allows for basic green OA deposit of the post-print or at least the original (pre-print) manuscript. There will be a significant number of SSCI journals that thus allow for basic green OA. You can comparison shop for the best green OA “deals” among SSCI anthropology journals right now in the SHERPA/RoMEO database. We should be supporting journals that have clear and sensible green OA policies.

    If for-profit/not-for-profit status also matters above or beyond green OA and SSCI status, then thankfully anthropology still has (for the moment at least!) high profile (SSCI) journals that are outside the control or influence of the large commercial publishers. Examples include Anthropological Quarterly, Ethnology, Ethnohistory, and Current Anthropology, among others. My view is that we should be working to support a diversity of publishers in anthropology so as to prevent the publishing equivalent of monocropping. Wiley’s partnerships have moved anthropology much, much closer to “all eggs in one basket” status, but we still have comparatively high levels of publisher diversity. We should support those departments, societies, and collectives that are working with sensible university presses (like Duke University Press) or who are making it work well on their own. When you publish in AQ you are helping fund the education of graduate students at George Washington University. When you publish in Ethnohistory you are helping Duke publish monographs and helping the American Society for Ethnohistory at the same time. They do not have to worry about shareholder dividends. As the current Elsevier boycott discussions reveal, some fields not longer have the kinds of diversity we still enjoy and thus junior scholars are even more trapped by the SSCI than we are.

    None of this is an endorsement of the SSCI or audit culture in general. Its just one possible game plan for dealing with it while also supporting open access and, perhaps also, opposing the corporate enclosure of our publishing system. This is a green OA answer. As a gold OA journal editor and proponent, there is other work that can be done on that front. In one of the simplest kinds of help for gold OA, scholars can peer-review for gold OA journals like HAU even as they are pressured to publish in green OA friendly SSCI journals.

  4. Its not just Taiwan where this is an issue. In the United States, at the point of tenure evaluations, for example, one is not just evaluated by your own department, but also by anthropologists from other universities both in and out of the USA. Ideas about how to confirm journal quality and status also differ within anthropology: do you use subjective factors (i.e., you *know* which journals are best) or journal impact factors, citation indices, and the like? If its the latter, biological/physical anthropology’s impact scores are disproportionately higher than cultural anthropology’s, for example, because such scoring favors the natural/hard sciences. Here’s a very telling list of the top journals in anthropology, 2001-2011, ranked by citation index:

    After departmental review and external review for tenure, you are next evaluated by professors from around your university who aren’t anthropologists. Some of them might want quantitative evidence of quality for your publications; other might be happy with a narrative explanation from your department about the quality of the journals in which you published.

    I agree with Kerim that having open access anthropology journals in SSCI ratings is one step. The other big step is to have existing journals convert to open access; I don’t know what it would take for non-AAA journals such as Current Anthropology or Anthropological Quarterly to do that, and I’m glad the conversation has started (again) about AAA publishers and policies. As a new online, open-access anthropology journal that launched with high quality, peer-reviewed scholarship from senior as well as junior anthropologists, and with an argument about anthropology, HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory is a great example in its first issue. Full disclosure: I’m on the editorial board of HAU (and also have tenure). As open access journals like HAU establish their reputation in the field, part of it is editorial in terms of quality/strength of the publication, and part of it is collective in terms all of us submitting articles, peer reviewing articles, then reading, teaching, and citing work from these journals. Having good, respected open access journals in anthropology will definitely change things.

  5. Exactly. The whole system of evaluation is a HUGE part of the problem. Graduate students and new PhD’s are sucked right into the whole fiasco because they are worried about publishing in “the right” places, and OA journals aren’t really an option. So, I guess the goal is to make OA anthro journals the right places to publish.

    On that note, I like Jeremy’s idea about creating a site/space where we can list the current OA anthro journals, describe what they are about, and generally help to create more awareness for the options that do exist. We could even create one running list and add that as a page or category to more than one site (the OAC, here on SM, Neuroanthropology, etc).

    Paul wrote:

    “It’s like trying to teach goldfish to imagiine a world without fishbowls. We do need to start building infrastructures like HAU, but more of them.”

    Exactly. One massive problem is that lots of people don’t even know there’s a problem, or that we can do something about how things currently work. And I definitely agree that what we need are more sites/projects like HAU.

  6. A late comment here — I went to look up some Savage-Minds cited articles on AnthroSource, and realized that when I read and cite these, I’m perpetuating the open-access problem. But there’s no easy way to keep up with the best in open access articles across publications, so that these can be circulated and cited instead.

    I follow the Anthropology of Christianity world, and James Bielo and Jon Bialecki have recently put together a great ongoing tumblr at, a “biblographic blog” that consists of pointing to articles whenever they find a new one on this topic. I pull in the RSS feed to my reader, and it’s a great way to keep in touch with the latest.

    We could mimic this for open-access anthropology, creating a curated bibliographic blog (citation plus abstract, or with a brief summary of the value of the work). In this way, OA materials could more quickly become building blocks of knowledge in the anthro social world.

  7. Kerim — Great tumblr! I wonder what would be the best way to publicize?

    You’re probably right that posting links to articles would be onerous, but links to each issues when it’s posted (plus pulling in the TOC) might be doable.

    Browsing, I found these lists of OA journals, some specifically anthro: (incomplete. we should add anthro); (detailed Communications list); (U Colorado. 4 anthro titles); (directory of open access journals list for anthropology); (crazy-long list of middle east journals); (has anthro section).

    Which is a lot to handle. Your tumblr or an associated twitter could be a great way to draw visibility to good journals or articles, but it would probably take a group to sort through for the good stuff. And with so many journals popping up, there are still the issue of centralized search systems, and new forms of ranking and reputation. I suspect only when hierarchies of value become a part of open access will it really take off, and that’s probably when it becomes more than just HAU vs. the rest. But I may be repeating others here. Thoughts?

Comments are closed.