Anthropology News: Announcing Open–and then closed again–Anthropology

I was just checking through my ridiculously full gmail inbox when I saw the latest “content alert” from Anthropology News.  One piece really struck my attention: the announcement of a new open access publication called Open Anthropology.  AAA president Leith Mullings writes:

I am very pleased to announce that at its May meeting, the Executive Board (EB) agreed to explore and implement a pilot open access publication. Open Anthropology, the first public, open access digital-only publication of the American Anthropological Association, is expected to launch in 2013.

Wow, that’s some great news.  Here’s more:

In making this decision, the EB considered the extensive transformations taking place in scholarly publishing, as well as the importance of sharing information as widely as possible. In keeping with the AAA Statement of Purpose, Open Anthropology will help promote anthropology and anthropologists and “the dissemination of anthropological knowledge and its use to solve human problems.” We know anthropology has much to offer in this regard

Yes indeed, anthropology does have a lot to offer.  Nice!  This is sounding fantastic.  Almost too good to be true.  More:

By examining the conditions under which various practices and relationships arise, anthropologists have a great deal to say about how and why they change. It is this perspective that makes the discipline potentially applicable to addressing the pressing problems of today’s world.

Yes!  This is really getting good.  Tell me more:

Open Anthropology will be devoted to previously published AAA articles, review articles, book and audiovisual reviews, and reports and comments on topics of interest to the general public, and that may have direct or indirect public policy implications. Content in Open Anthropology will be culled from the full archive of AAA publications, curated into issues, and will be freely available on the internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to the full text of these articles.

A really important, exciting idea.  Pretty cool, no?  There must be some kind of catch, right?  Oh wait, this just in:

There will be a specific policy for Open Anthropology on “ungating” and perhaps “re-gating” content after a certain period of time. We hope to make anthropological content more accessible and draw more people to anthropological data and analysis, but also ensure that AAA is able to maintain a financially viable, sustainable publishing program while serving its members and the wider public.

That would be the catch.  Did you see it?  Here it is again:

There will be a specific policy for Open Anthropology on “ungating” and perhaps “re-gating” content after a certain period of time.

Re-gating?  What on earth is that?  How is that open access?  So the AAA is going to do open access, but not really.  It’s like “kind of open access” and then not open anymore.  I think they need a new name for the publication they are proposing here.  Maybe “Open and then no so open anthropology”?  “Part-time open anthropology, except on weekends, holidays, Mondays, and blackout dates”?  That has a nice ring to it.  How about this: “Open anthropology with an asterisk”?  “Open For A Limited Time Offer Anthropology”?  “Oops who left the gate open anthropology?”  One last one: “I can’t believe it’s open oh wait it’s really not anthropology”?  I like that one.  Really hits the nail on the head.  Anyway, enough of the tomfoolery.

I don’t know, folks.  This doesn’t make any sense to me.  Why come up with all these great ideas and then pull back the “open” part of open access?  Making an open access publication is the whole point!  This would be like announcing the opening of an all new public park and then telling people later on, “Well, ok, you can go there for a week or so but after that it’s going to be locked up again.”  What’s the point?

So there’s the latest open access news.  I applaud the AAA for this new effort.  But, in the spirit of “re-gating,” I take it back and un-applaud them for throwing in the lame caveat.  Come on AAA folks, if you are going to do it, then do it right.


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.

4 thoughts on “Anthropology News: Announcing Open–and then closed again–Anthropology

  1. Ryan has stated his criticism and opened a space for discussion. Neither countering nor endorsing the basic point of his criticism, I just want to observe that the meaning of the specific phrase “open access,” while not 100% stable or uncontested, has an agreed upon core as reflected in widespread practices in the publishing community and as expressed in founding documents such as the definition established in Budapest Open Access Initiative. I regret that President Mullings statement uses the phrase open access to refer to a proposed practice (innovative, worthwhile, and discussable in itself) that is outside the scope of the accepted meaning of open access. There is an abundance of evidence suggesting how widespread confusion about open access is among scholars in anthropology. In this context, I urge discussants to stick close to the established meaning of the term which, by definition, does not extend to unrestricted access that is temporary. I applaud the scholarly communication experiments that the AAA is undertaking and just advocate that actors and commentators not make up our own definitions, thereby fostering further misunderstanding.

  2. Are they actually intending to close content after a time, or are they just reserving their right to do so to appease the fears of those who aren’t sure about open access? Or are they planning something else down the track that requires this legal manouevre? I would like to hear them explain their logic, as I don’t see how it makes financial, let alone any other, sense.

  3. Well if the AAA isn’t back to its old tricks right?
    This is the same organization who had to apologize to Franz Boas (need we forget). They tend to make a lot of mistakes…and also tend to overcharge for everything (think yearly fees). I think that is what the organization is mainly worried about, collecting its fees. While a lot of money is generated from their annual conference and membership dues, a major the draw to join is in fact having access to their publications. With open access people will not have an incentive to pay over $100 for their old boys academic club.

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