Boycotting closed journals?

danah boyd has posted a short manifesto declaring her intention to no longer participate in the production of journals that publish “locked down” content. First, let me recapitulate my comments on her site.

If we take a cynical view–and that is a very good idea when looking at academic publishing–journals are in the business of banking and distributing reputation; they are whuffie banks. Displacing trust in the “top journals” is a bit like making the Kennedys look bad. They can do an awful lot of bad things and still remain a dynasty because they have always been considered as much. Many of the top journals are dusted with a patina that is difficult to achieve in a new launch: whether open access or not.

Boycotting the broadly accepted top journals–which in our fields are generally not open access–guarantees scholarly marginalization. It will be very hard to make tenure or get a job at a competitive institution (or even a less competitive institution) without publications in these top journals. Moreover, the mechanisms of reputation do not distinguish between self-exclusion and exclusion-because-you-suck. As a result, if you limit yourself to publishing in second and third-tier journals that also happen to be open source, you virtually guarantee that these remain ghettoized. My recommendation, then, is to publish in open access journals, but also to publish in top journals. That is, you’ve got to maintain scholarly credibility in order to help drive both commercial and non-commercial publishers to open models.

I’m in strong agreement with many of her other suggestions.

If you are an established scholar, of course you should publish in open access journals. It’s an effective way of lending your credibility to the venture. However, I think you can have an even greater impact by lobbying public and private granting institutions–including NSF–to require publication in open access journals.

Perhaps the most compelling way to encourage open access journals is to cite them. It would be pretty impossible to boycott citing closed journals, but you can limit it significantly. You can also choose to cite self-archived or draft versions of an article. danah points to an early essay version of an article she has recently published in Convergence, and if I ever have the need or opportunity, I will cite her online version rather than the version in Convergence.

Now, while I criticized her boycott as a bit quixotic, I’ve been surprised by the comments on her blog and on the AIR-L list that seem to favor the current model. People seem to take pretty extreme positions, perhaps because she has staked out a clear position on one side. Some suggest that it is time to do away with all commercial publishing, and peer review as well. They see the publishers as rapacious, and one suggested that they were “flesh peddlers.” That kind of hyperbole just makes the open access model look silly.

On the other end were those who suggested that the work of creating and maintaining a journal could only be accomplished with the resources of either a commercial publisher or grants to support the time required for editing. While I appreciate the amount of work that goes into producing a journal, I think many of the examples of peer production currently available on the web suggest that such a view is far too conservative. The fact that a non-commercial, distributed model has not worked yet hardly convinces me that it is not possible. Indeed, if anything, it encourages me to launch my my own journal. You know, for the lolz.

The solution is probably somewhere in the middle. Clearly, software solutions like Open Journal Systems reduce some of the technical overhead, and more radical systems of peer review are already being tried. I am certainly interested in being a part of those experiments in a pro-active way, without cutting off the existing venues for research.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted 2/8/2008 at 5:02 am | Permalink

    dude! it’s for the lulz!

  2. Posted 2/8/2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Pretty nostalgic Alex. Danah’s lays it out pretty neatly, and she might have traction to pull this through. Simply put, it’s great to give everyone equal access. The Directory of Open Access Journals seems to be a good start too.

  3. alex
    Posted 2/8/2008 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    @Barry: I’m not quite ready to cross over to “lulz.” I get the feeling that lulz is still too closely tied to 4chan / ED for my tastes. And a Google count suggests that lolz still wins out (7,910,000 to 278,000). The Wiktionary traces “lolz” to a use in 1999, but lulz (as in DIFTL) is much newer. So, I’m going to have to go old-school on that one for a while. It’s just how I roll.

  4. Posted 2/27/2008 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    old-school is cool. respek.

    *complicated hand sign*

One Trackback

  1. […] Funding agencies: Require your grantees to publish in open-access journals or make a pre-print version available at a centralized source specific to their field. Many academic journals have exceptions for when funding agencies demand transparency. You can help your grantees and the academic world at large by backing their need to publish in an accessible manner. Furthermore, you could fund the publishing of special issues in return for them being open-access or help offset a publisher’s costs for a journal so that they can try to go open-access. (Tx Alex) […]

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