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A Second Look at Open Access

Today I took a look at some more articles and some more videos on the web introducing myself to the concepts of Open Access. I also talked to a professor at my university who pointed me to some interesting links. The impact factor of Open Access journals is rapidly approaching that of non-OA journals. That is interesting: I definitely want to support Open Access, but as I said yesterday, I simply find some of the arguments lacking.

I was browsing through some videos on Youtube and just as I was thinking “Why are these all from people I’ve never heard of?” I found one from someone I have heard of (and, incidentally, whose papers I read quite a lot of): Andrew Pomiankowski.

Pomiankowski points out several advantages of BMC Journals:

  1. Fast peer review
  2. Fast turnaround from submission to publication
  3. Creating competition for journal publishers, who have been “ripping off” scientists for a while now

Okay, now he’s speaking my language. I definitely think the publishers need competition. And if they genuinely have been ripping off scientists (and I have no reason to think he’s lying, having seen the whole process from submission to publication), then that’s something we need to rebel against.

Another critical argument that didn’t come up right away in my investigations was authors retaining copyright. Open Access journals don’t demand copyright assignment from the authors of scientific works. Instead authors retain the rights to distribute their own works in their own ways. The articles are still peer-reviewed and still perfectly reputable, but you can get them from a colleague’s website while reading his CV, instead of following links that might not work. That is compelling.

What’s holding me back? What’s holding me back from saying “I will only publish in open access journals?” The fact that a journal like Evolution, or American Naturalist is not Open Access still doesn’t deter me. Those are good journals. I would be more than proud to publish a paper in any one of many good “closed access” journals. As I said yesterday, I also still can’t discount the value of a good paper because it’s not in an Open Access journal.

However, things are changing. Within ten or twenty years I doubt there will be many “closed access” journals. The journals I just mentioned are already putting open data policies into effect. Open data to open access takes very few steps, although it may involve pissing off, losing, or forcing the hand of the publisher. If Wiley-Blackwell can’t provide the kind of access that scientists want, then they may just go out of business. I think a lot of scientists do want that level of access, so I think Wiley-Blackwell, Elsevier, Springer and company will have to change. Either that or they’ll just keep merging until there will be only one such publisher to put out of business.

I do think the access the web allows people is an unstoppable force. The trick is to take the best part of the freedom of the internet (access) and not let the content fall victim to the worst part of the worst part of the freedom of the internet: barriers to entry for authors. Any jerk can say whatever the hell he wants and you’ll still probably read it. You for example, reading the blog of a graduate student when you should be reading something over at PLoS. We need to make sure that all the good things about journals and the peer-review process stay in place, while making the journals as easily accessible as this blog.

Just for fun, here’s another biologist that I have heard of, Steve Jones:

  1. November 29, 2010 at 12:39

    Here is a purely economic analysis of the situation.


  2. November 29, 2010 at 22:04

    Within “ten or twenty years”, ten or twenty more years of access and impact will have been lost, needlessly.

    It is absurd to go on waiting passively for gold OA publishing when green OA self-archiving is at our fingertips. (That absurdity is the reason the only way we’ll get OA before the next Ice Age is if our institutions and funders realize it’s time to mandate it — green OA, in case gold fever has again obscured the intended meaning…)


  1. November 29, 2010 at 17:01

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