This is bad. The Archaeological Institute of America has published a statement in its popular magazine opposing open access. And by opposing, I mean totally hating on the concept.
We at the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), along with our colleagues at the American Anthropological Association and other learned societies, have taken a stand against open access. Here at the AIA, we particularly object to having such a scheme imposed on us from the outside when, in fact, during the AIA’s more than 130-year history, we have energetically supported the broad dissemination of knowledge, and do so through our extensive program of events and lectures for the general public and through our publications. Our mission statement explicitly says, “Believing that greater understanding of the past enhances our shared sense of humanity and enriches our existence, the AIA seeks to educate people of all ages about the significance of archaeological discovery.” We have long practiced “open access.”
Really? No. Really? But wait, there’s more:
While it may be true that the government finances research, it does not fund the arduous peer-review process that lies at the heart of journal and scholarly publication, nor the considerable effort beyond that step that goes into preparing articles for publication. Those efforts are not without cost. When an archaeologist publishes his or her work, the final product has typically been significantly improved by the contributions of other professionals such as peer reviewers, editors, copywriters, photo editors, and designers. This is the context in which the work should appear. (Almost all scholarly books and many articles lead off with a lengthy list that acknowledges these individuals.)
And then there is this:
We fear that this legislation would prove damaging to the traditional venues in which scientific information is presented by offering, for no cost, something that has considerable costs associated with producing it. It would undermine, and ultimately dismantle, by offering for no charge, what subscribers actually support financially—a rigorous publication process that does serve the public, because it results in superior work.
I was going to write a really scathing response about how evil this is. But really, I don’t think i can do it. President Bartman and the archaeologists are running scared, just as the AAA is. The issue comes down to something much more fundamental than open access, and I direct this at faculty, students and other members of scholarly societies:
Do you want your scholarly society to survive?
I mean this honestly. I, for instance, do not. I no longer give a flute about the AAA. I’ve tried my hardest to make the error of their ways visible to them, but failed. I’ll miss the meetings and the swag, but they now do nothing else but suck money out of my university library and give it to Wiley Blackwell. Game over.
But I undestand if you don’t feel that way, and if you don’t then it really is a problem that our scholarly societies can only exist by making our research less accessible and available. We need to find another way.
Here are some issues to consider if you are an archaeologist (or belong to any scholarly society):
1) No one is imposing anything on anyone yet. AIA is writing this in opposition to the recently re-introduced FRPPA legislation that would extend public access to federally funded research at all agencies, not just the NIH (which currently requires that published research funded by taxpayers be available to taxpayers 12 months after it is published). They owe it to their membership to explain this, rather than spreading fear and uncertainty by being vague and threatening. But instead, it falls to me to clarify it. If there are in fact any archaeologists who do their work with taxpayer money, and if that legislation passes, then yes, those faculty members would be required to make a version of their research publicly accessible. It does not force publishers to do anything at all, and it certainly does not affect the quality they claim to create.
2) Holding public lectures and events, and publishing journals, while laudable, is not the same thing “open access”. It is disingenuous and misleading to confuse the issue this way. Open access, as it is used by the other 99.9% of people who use the term, refers to nothing more than whether or not academic research publications are openly available to the public. Having a mission statement that says “we intend to educate people” is also not the same as open access.
3) It is absolutely, 100%, totally and completely correct that high-quality publishing is expensive. BUT THIS IS NOT THE POINT OF OPEN ACCESS. If I could make my letters more all-caps I would. No one is saying that open access makes publishing cheaper. This is also misleading.
4) Follow the money. Where does all that money come from that makes AIA’s publications so fantastic? From university libraries. It is libraries who buy subscriptions to academic journals, not individuals, not businesses, not people at Barnes and Noble, or people passing a news-stand in Kinchasa. Elite university libraries pay for those articles to be great. Who writes and reviews those articles? University researchers. Not independently wealthy archaeology connoisseurs, not well-paid corporate researchers, but university researchers. Add it up: the content is produced and reviewed (and read) by university researchers. The subscription fees are paid by university libraries. Scholarly societies publication programs are 99% dependent on universities for their revenue. What they make in dues and other fundraising, especially in the case of something like AIA and AAA, is dwarfed by this publication program. Now ask your local librarians how much more money they have to support scholarly societies whose publications are getting more expensive, more difficult to access, and more tedious to negotiate… you’ll get an earful.
5) What’s the solution? Maybe the solution is for faculty to work with their universities to find ways to support a scholarly society without the condition being the restriction of research availability. There is enough money in the system to be creative about this, but not so long as our scholarly societies are extracting it from our libraries and giving it to for profit publishers who, unlike the AIA, do not make our work superior.
It’s unfortunate that scholarly societies are in this position, but it is evil that they are opposing something that only enriches the already super-rich for-profit publishers who are busy buying up scholarly society publications. It may already be too late to save our scholarly societies and the publications they offer. I hope not.