Open Access vs. Paid Access: A Problem Even in the Academic World

Anyone who’s participated in a Google vs. Apple debate (or cat fight) would be quite intimately aware of the open access vs. paid access arguments when it comes to technology.

Well it seems Ivy League schools are coming across a similar tension in academic journals. Harvard University writes that they simply cannot continue subscriptions to many of the major periodicals as it has becoming “financially untenable”. It would seem the Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, in consultation with Harvard Library leadership, are going to rejig their subscriptions and are appealing to researchers to “consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access.” (my bolding).

While this sounds like a noble effort, it would seem librarians at Yale are less confident about the viability of this shift in thinking and claim there are more complicated issues to be considered. From the interview with Yale University Librarian Susan Gibbons, we can observe her opinion on the matter:

(Skip to 5.00 to get to the bit about open access journals.)

Junior academics are striving for tenure. One of the major ways to get tenure is to have articles published in reputable journals. Thus, junior academics don’t particularly desire their articles to be published in open access journals, which are the opposite of exclusive and, therefore, considered non-prestigious (which, of course, is an elitist attitude, but the whole concept of tenure is itself rather entwined with that, is it not?).

On the other hand, once academics get tenure, they (perhaps) feel more compelled to publish in open access, maximizing the audience for the discovery they have worked long and hard to bring to the world’s attention.

Yale, therefore, maintains support for both open and closed access journals because they want to be able to sustain younger professors’ chances to attain their tenure, while also maximizing the accessibility of research that is granted through open access journals.

What do you think? Is it better that Harvard is trying to crush the increased costs of ‘reputable’ journals by encouraging academics to publish in open access journals in order to move the prestige away from the closed access ones? Or is Yale’s model of maintaining support for both types of journal a more realistic and logical move due to the nature of the academic world?

[Via The Atlantic | Photo Credit: Anna Creech]


9 Responses to Open Access vs. Paid Access: A Problem Even in the Academic World

  1. I will start by saying that I am not to familiar with the world of academics. But it seems to me that the whole tenure process is flawed. Would it not be more logical to achieve tenure based on WHAT you publish NOT where?

    Maybe a reddit for the accademic world?

    • I am in academia, and I can tell you that the "where" part is very big. What it determines is your impact, the well-respected journals like Cell, Nature, Science, PNAS, they have high impact ratings because lots of people watch what gets printed in them. Because of that there's a high competition to get published there. Really only the neatest research with the high possibility of making a splash in the field get in. So if you have a lot of high impact journal publications, then you are interpreted to be very high impact in your field. If you have a lot of publications in no-name journals no one really looks at, then you aren't making as big of an impact and your chances of getting tenured gets reduced.

      Think of it this way: a local celebrity who gets a story in a small town newspaper will not get as much attention or fame as a celebrity who gets a story in People or whatever magazines get published globally.

      • The impact for open access content is it gets *cited* more (overall) than the stuff in closed access containers (which get cited fewer times, yet are tracked for impact factor with current metrics favoring closed access containers).

        A different model might include the number times one's content is cited with a modifier of how many times the citing article is cited… but that might take a few years to correctly assess the impact of the original content.

        If Cell, Nature, Science, PNAS, and other 'high impact' containers went open access, would the quality of their content decrease just because more people could read the ideas contained within?

  2. Open-source knowledge is the holy grail as far as academia goes, but unfortunately nobody has found out a way to make it work economically. If scientists don't get paid for all their hard work, there is no incentive for them to work hard. They may as well go get a job at McDonalds. The bottom line is we can't try to implement idealistic methods on the real world.

  3. Well, in theory, it will be work IF Harvard and the other top universities, think tanks, and research labs all lend equal authority to those open-access journals as they do the closed-access. The reputation of the closed-access journals is the reason people want to be published there, and if that reputation/authority were conferred on the open-access versions, people would be willing to publish there.

    This only works in theory, because the more democratic you make something, the less "good work" you'll find because you to wade through all the other junk to get it.

  4. Tenure is a dying beast of burden to education and should be eliminated altogether. Plus, this is Harvard, who looks down upon the likes of MIT with disgust simply because it allows anyone of intelligence, not wealth, to come in. Publishing reputation relies not on funds, but on the quality of the information held within, and the testability of the claims made.

    • Get rid of tenure then you get a lot of sub-par faculty members. Then you have to do one of two things: increase the size of the school's faculty, forcing the budget to increase, causing tuition to increase, or keep the size the same and have less impressive faculty members. Schools want the best faculty members because the best faculty members bring in more grant money for research and bring the academic appeal as students want to learn from good professors. Take away the good professors by giving the jobs to sub-par researchers then you reduce the academic quality. Add sub-par faculty members by increasing the number of jobs and you force your students to pay more for an academic experience that may not be as great. Giving tenure keeps good faculty members at your school so the money comes in and the school's academic rating stays high.

      • Tenure is a dinosaur like unions are. They served a noble purpose originally but now create more problems than they solve.

  5. By the very nature of this debate, we need hard facts and figures to be able to discuss with any sense of reality and not conjecture on the impacts of open vs closed access support.

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