Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Dangers of Open Access Online Only

I know that I sound a bit like a broken record when I continue to go on and on and on about the problems associated with the current Open Access frenzy. The problems are all too obvious. For starters: low barriers to entry are an invite to fly-by-night operators. These days it is fair to say that dodgy Open Access outfits outnumber by far the very few decent Open Access publishers. Open Access as it is currently conceived constitutes also a direct threat to the ability of academics to publish their work in professional journals. If Open Access replaces subscription based models, an author's ability to pay the Open Access fees determines whether an academic is able to afford publishing her work. The fees in question range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per article. To be fair, a VERY limited number of universities has begun shelling out $$ for Open Access fees for their academic researchers. Say, if you were an academic working in one of those exceptional institutions and you decided to publish in an Open Access outlet you'd go to your university's research office or its library and ask that it transfer the cash required for getting your article published to the Open Access publisher. The more you publish the more expensive you become to your cash strapped employer. No doubt some such institutions will begin to love the old days again when academics didn't publish that much, simply because that would be cheaper. Or there might be a $$ limit on the number of papers you may publish, you might also find yourself suddenly strongly encouraged by the powers that are in your university to publish where it is cheapest. - Talking about cheaper, the true free riders in this system would, of course, be institutions the academics of which publish preciously little (think Phoenix and similar outfits). They're the true beneficiaries of OA. It is noteworthy though, that free riding is encouraged in this system. Whoever produces research pays for the luxury of seeing it published. Anyone else is in for a free ride. Yep, that is Open Access justice. - Most institutions, of course, have neither the money nor the inclination to spend $$ on the article processing fee the Open Access business model depends on. Hence the threat to academic researchers' ability to publish their academic content in an Open Access world.

Still, this is all old news, except, of course, to the having-your-cake-and-eating-it Open Access proponents. What is news is that one of my dire predictions has since come to pass. I warned on various occasions that these fly-by-night operators have no back-up systems in place for the point in time where they switch off their little web-servers and shut down their operations. Articles 'published' on their servers, I warned, would disappear into the internet's never-never-land. This danger is one reason for why I am such a Luddite with regard to the need for print versions of published peer reviewed content. It is the only guarantee that we have that  peer reviewed content can be easily traced via university libraries. It is the only watertight guarantee we have, in so far as protecting the integrity of the published academic outputs are concerned. If there's no print copy, we might sometimes be able to find individual article pdf's of authors who published on Open Access platforms that vanished over night, but there is no guarantee. This has all sorts of undesirable consequences for articles that have been cited (say by a doctoral student in her research thesis - how could a reviewer tasked with evaluating said thesis do that job if some of her cited articles don't exist any longer due to the collapse of the Open Access outfit that published them?)

Well, here's a link to a bona fide report about such an Open Access fly-by-night outfit having closed operations, with the complete loss of all its published contents. The virtual journals gone, it is not only the loss of articles published there that is of concern, it also means that crucial information about the journal is gone, too. Did it undertake peer review? Was there an editorial board? -

And yes, I told you so... -  QED as they say.

2 comments:

  1. That's why there are archives, e.g. http://www.clockss.org/clockss/Participating_Publishers. Also, this particular journal looks very fishy (to put it nicely).

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