Thursday, February 02, 2012

Occupy American Anthropological Associaton

For unfamiliar readers, the vast majority of published peer reviewed academic research appears in journals controlled by massive for-profit publishing houses. Academics do not see the monetary profit, the publishers do because they control distribution and access to their journals through expensive subscriptions. The lay public, independent researchers, and others must pay through the nose in order to access this research. The advent of the internet has challenged this middle-corporation driven model by allowing journals to flourish free of the need for massive publishing houses. All you need is some server space and bandwidth and away you go, able to publish really groovy research that anyone with an internet connection can look at. If you haven't got your own IT person and html programmer, there's even open source software to get you set-up.

Via a post on one of my listserve subscriptions this morning, I learn that the American Anthropological Association has come out against open access journals because the rights of Wiley, Sage, T and F, Elsevier, etc to profit from the free labour of professors (and, ahem, grad students!).

Yet, in other corners of the academic universe, pissed-off profs are forming  posses.

It's interesting reading the comments around this topic. There seem to be two very clear camps emerging among the rank and file scholars. On one side there are those big-picture idealists who see the social value in open access and decry the fact that their work is essentially being sold for profits they never see and are willing to do something about it. These are the ones willing to challenge the field.

However, on the other side, you've got people afraid to boycott the Wileys and Elseviers of the world because they wouldn't be able to publish in the places they need to publish in order to further their careers. That sort of cowardice is fair enough I suppose: I've been hanging around universities long enough now to know that that many professors exist solely to attract grant money and add publications to their CV in a sort of weird egocentric-indentured servant-chicken-egg driven feedback loop. Challenge the big ideas of your subject matter, but don't you dare try to knock down a few ivory walls or leave gate open so the plebes can get in. They've also got to eat and stable academic work is harder and harder to come by.

Nevertheless, as internet file-sharing revolutionised the music and video industries, so too internet open access is radically shifting the business of knowledge sharing. It is telling that, like his entertainment counterparts, the head of a major astroturf org scholarly association has to run to policy-makers to prevent well, the common folk from seeing the results of the tax-dollars and not those tax-dollars appearing on corporate publishers' balance sheets. 

No comments: