Open Access, Explained

One of the take-aways from a recent analysis of the AAA publishing program and its future [in typical style, the report is only available to AAA members] is that few Anthropologists understand Open Access.

Savage Minds is here to help.

This video, animated by Jorge Cham of PHD Comics is mostly focused on scientific publishing, but it is as useful an introduction as I can find.

Please help educate your fellow AAA members by sharing this video widely.

11 thoughts on “Open Access, Explained

  1. Your readers might be interested in some of my experiences with various versions of open access. Some years ago this issue came up on a mailing list devoted to music theory, and I proposed something more or less of this sort, inspired by the scientific open access website To my surprise, some Italian participants got inspired by my suggestions and created the first truly open open access journal of music theory, Eunomios: As with the arxiv site, Eunomios is open not only in the sense of being freely accessible to readers, but also freely accessible to writers as well. This is a significant difference which deserves serious consideration — especially since discussions of open access are often vague on this point, or ignore it completely. As I see it, true open access should be open at both ends, both for the content consumer AND the content creator.

    Open access venues of this sort are or should be as useful to established figures as neophytes. Established figures in any field have no need to publish in high profile journals, since they are already themselves high profile. And since high profile journals follow procedures that can take years, immediate publication of one’s work via a journal such as arxiv or Eunomios should be seen as a great advantage for such people, with no downside, since they have nothing to prove. I therefore encouraged some of the leading figures of music theory to take advantage of Eunomios — but that doesn’t seem to have happened, no doubt due to the dead weight of traditions to which they have become accustomed and are reluctant to challenge. Of course, leading figures in physics and math regularly post at the arxiv site, which is a great precedent for any future development of two way open access.

  2. (continued from my previous comment)
    Many academics object to journals such as Eunomios, as they find it a waste of time to have to slog through amateurish efforts or student term papers in the hope of finding something useful. Also, many younger scholars feel the need for official recognition that only a high profile journal can provide.

    As I see it, such problems can be addressed through the development of websites or blogs established for the purpose of reviewing the open access literature in any given field, thus sorting the wheat from the chaff. Reviewers would be carefully selected and only recognized authorities or especially promising younger scholars would be permitted to write reviews. They would focus on articles they find authoritative and meaningful, while simply ignoring whatever appears unworthy of their attention. Readers willing to spend time looking for underappreciated gems would, of course, be able to do so on their own.

    As for me, though my writings have been published in established, peer reviewed journals over many years, I became impatient with the long, drawn out and uncertain process of mainstream publication some time ago, and decided simply to self-publish completely on my own. I began with a blog dealing with various aspects of world music and musical origins, I called music 000001, which by now has garnered over 140,000 hits.

    More recently (and of more relevance to those reading here) I put together a book centered on what the musical research can tell us about culture and social structure generally. It’s called “Sounding the Depths: Tradition and the Voices of History” and takes the form of a freely accessible blog ( I decided to self publish in paperback format as well, taking advantage of the excellent on demand service, CreateSpace.

    I’m posting here now because I think it important that your readers understand that there is more to open access than is apparent from many of the discussions currently taking place in academic circles, and a great many different flavors and options are currently available. What’s most important as I see it is to free ourselves from the academic yoke generally and express ourselves as free agents in the (relatively) free world of Internet communication.

  3. This cartoon leaves a number of critical questions unanswered. Such as what happens to the thousands (tens of thousands) of dollars that subscriptions generate from libraries? Also, what about the Public LIbrary of Science, and other such open-access peer reviewed journals? These are a challenge to the expensive journals behind the pay wall, and I hope will rise in status due to their openness.

    The disadvantage for the open access journals of course is that they often pass costs along to the authors in the form of page charges. These can be $1000+ for an article in a PLoS journal, a charge which is daunting for young scholars who do not pass the cost on to a research grant.

    Overall though this is indeed a good discussion to have!

  4. @Tony

    what happens to the thousands (tens of thousands) of dollars that subscriptions generate from libraries?

    This is the wrong question to ask. The question is what value are the publishers bringing to journals with all the profits they are making? Are these thousands of dollars now going to make better journals, or just to line their pockets? Running a journal costs money, but authors and reviewers aren’t getting paid – so does the service provided justify the cost?

    The disadvantage for the open access journals of course is that they often pass costs along to the authors in the form of page charges.

    Often, but not always. There are many different ways of funding OA journals. “Author-pays” is just one option. It works well for the sciences, but the social sciences and the humanities might need a different model.

    There has been a fair amount of discussion of these issues on this blog. Feel free to look back at the other posts for this category: /category/open-access-open-source/

  5. This is a nice video, but it is entirely about Gold OA. While most of us support Gold OA philosophically and would love to see this happen, don’t hold your breath. But as Steven Harnad has pointed out repeatedly for years, Green OA is something that can be done by scholars and universities without getting commercial publishers to change their ways overnight. That is, the final reviewed manuscript can be posted in your institutional repository, bringing open access right away. The final sentence of the video does mention Green OA (but not by name).

  6. @kerim: Can you say more about why you think the AAA’s report shows that few anthropologists understand OA? Are you referring to the results of the survey of AAA members? Or do you think the recommendations in the report itself miss the mark about possible OA models for AAA?

  7. I’d like to point out that the alternative uses of journal net revenue are not limited to “make better journals” or “line the pockets of publishers.” The American Folklore Society is the learned-society publisher of a green OA journal, the Journal of American Folklore. We use net revenue from institutional subscriptions to JAF (which, as is the case across the humanities, quite low when compared to STEM journals) and royalties from online access to JAF contents (primarily via Project MUSE and JSTOR) to support a number of activities and programs that benefit our members and the field at large. These activities (including travel stipends, consulting grants, prizes, support for students, and field-wide OA initiatives such as Open Folklore and the new JAF multimedia site) have no revenue stream of their own and thus depend upon modest net revenue from our journal for their existence and development.

  8. Gotcha. I think the survey also shows that it’s not just open access that is misunderstood. Most AAA members probably aren’t tuned in to many nuts-and-bolts aspects of the publishing program, including costs.

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