Academic Travesties – Open Access Publishing

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I got ANOTHER invitation to publish an article the other day – this time it was a call for book chapters. I get quite a few of these, as I’m sure others do too.

Personalized invitations are always flattering, but of course, with the advance of automated mailers and data mining, there is no real reason to believe that an actual human had anything to do with my invitation at all. The invitation mentioned one of my papers, but they had obviously not read the paper. The paper they mentioned talks about a technique I developed for analysing educational approaches in video games using reverse engineering and while the book for which I got the chapter invitation is about reverse engineering, it is very definitely aimed at engineers and computer scientists, while my work is informed BY these fields, not FOR them.

I didn’t think much about it. I was going to politely decline, but I’ve been quite busy lately and it slipped my mind. This morning I got another invitation from the same group about the same book. SO, I checked it out. Something in the email caught my eye that I had previously missed – this is an OPEN ACCESS publication.

The punchline? It will cost me 590 EUR to have my chapter published.

In the 21st century, if you have money, you can publish. It won’t matter if your work, or even your writing for that matter is any good, just so long as you have money. Commercial publishing doesn’t even do this. I am currently writing a book for a major publisher (Wiley). They pay me. They pay me an advance, which is effectively their gamble that the book is worthy. When it hits the shelves, I get royalties. If my book isn’t any good, or if it isn’t something people are interested in, I don’t get paid. That’s how capitalistic publishing is supposed to work. Academic publishing is supposed to be based on MERIT. Period. It should not be based on money, nor should it be based on what’s popular.

Some say they don’t see open access publishing as a big deal. I know plenty of well-known researchers who have had big grants for so long they probably don’t even remember what it’s like to have to think about what things cost, if in fact they ever did. Often all you need to get that next big grant is to have had a big grant before (but that’s for another rant). I spent most of my academic career as an instructor – I was ineligible for grants. At least that is what the people who had to sign off on my applications told me when they laughed at me for asking. (That’s another rant too – that people up the ladder can poison or even outright block your attempts to get funding. Many of these people are administrators because they aren’t much good at anything else so they see you as a threat if you are better than them.)

Now, the original idea of open access, namely that readers will get to access the publications for free, is a worthy and laudable one. It also fits in nicely with what education should be – accessible. However, the Academy and capitalism do not mesh well (ever) and what we have ended up with is a system whereby academics (I’m starting to hesitate to even call them that) PAY to have their stuff published. Here are just a few of the reasons why this is so very wrong:

  1. Publications get accepted on the basis of ability to pay (i.e. selecting for the wealthy and/or well-funded) rather than on merit (i.e. what the Academy is SUPPOSED to stand for). Researchers with money have an advantage.
  2. An individual with no money can not get published, REGARDLESS OF HOW GOOD OR IMPORTANT their work is. Researchers with unpopular ideas (politically or institutionally) are discriminated against.
  3. Publishers, no matter what they claim, will accept low-quality work to fill their publications as they have realized that it is actually pretty easy to fill a publication this way. Often those with the least to say push their stuff the hardest.
  4. Scholarship becomes about doing what will pay rather than doing something that might advance human knowledge or help the world.

This really is despicable and any academic who supports or publishes in such a venue should be ashamed of themselves. Yes I know the old adage, “Publish or Perish”. I also know that this is the reality for the most part. But here’s the kicker: universities are run by academics. SO, ultimately, THEY are the ones who encourage this kind of perversion.

As far as I’m concerned, a publication in an open access venue has questionable merit -right up there with someone who never publishes alone (and someone who ONLY publishes alone). The academy doesn’t seem to care, but every self-respecting academic should.

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Academic Travesties – Open Access Publishing — 2 Comments

  1. I suspect there are some good open-access journals (there are also some excellent blogs), but the problem of privileging those with funding remains. It has always been true at least to an extent that those with funding are able to publish more than those without, but this simply fuels the fire.
    Since academic assessment rarely looks beyond one’s publication count, this makes a huge difference.
    The academy SHOULD discriminate, but it should do so on merit, NOT money. There are enough problems with how one assesses merit without adding this to the mix.

  2. I think you have overstated the case against open-access publishing. What you say is not wrong (there certainly are bottom-feeders out there trying to exploit insecure academics), but there are also good open-access journals.

    I’ve posted on this subject a few times:

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