Whitman faculty and open access publishing
Last year for Open Access Week, we profiled a few Whitman professors who are writing and using Open Educational Resources in their classes. This year we’re talking with professors who have published works of scholarship in Open Access journals. We asked them about their reasons for choosing an open access journal and their experiences of the publishing process, as well as what they see as the larger significance of open access publishing. Three Biology professors – Dan Vernon, Ginger Withers, and Tim Parker – shared their thoughts, as did Sharon Alker (English) and Frank Dunnivant (Chemistry). For an overview of Open Access models for journal publishing, see the previous blog post.
Tim Parker has published two papers that are available by Open Access. In Biological Reviews, a hybrid journal published by Wiley, articles may be made open access for a fee. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution is a fully OA journal, which also charges for publication of research articles. Parker said, “All else being equal, I would prefer OA. However, OA typically costs money and this limits my choices. In the first article above, a co-author’s institution covered the fees for making the article open access. The second article was an opinion piece, and at least at that time, the Frontiers journals did not charge to publish opinion pieces. All that said, I also choose journals based on where I think the article in question will receive the best/most attention, and the top journals in my field are not open access by default.” For the Biological Reviews article, peer review followed the usual model (article sent out for blind review), but for Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, there was a different model, built on a system of iterative exchange of comments between reviewers and authors.
Ginger Withers had published a paper in the Open Access journal Neural Development in 2009, and recently published a paper in PLOSone, one of the first-established open access journals. The decision to publish this recent work in an open access journal was deliberate, in order to increase readership, and to facilitate sharing and reusing images and figures with a Creative Commons license. Withers spoke highly of the rigorous peer review process at all of the open access journals she worked with. She originally sent the manuscript to an open access journal in neuroscience that does double-blind reviews: “We actually sent our paper to them and the reviews were favorable but the editor made the decision that it wasn’t novel enough.” PLOSone does charge for publication, and Withers characterized the APCs as “more than you would pay to publish in most journals,” but not significantly more than would be charged by a print journal to publish images or figures in color. Because her research had always relied on color images, budgeting several thousand dollars for publication costs was common.
Dan Vernon published a paper in Plants, an open access journal on all areas of plant science. His decision to publish in an OA journal was not based on its “open-access-ness.” “Because it was a new journal trying to get established, they were offering to publish without page charges for a short time. Also, they were publishing a special issue on a topic related to my lab’s research, so I took the opportunity. If anything, the open-access made me hesitate, because I had to first verify that this new journal was from a reputable publisher.”
The concern about whether or not a publisher is reputable is important. Frank Dunnivant described his experience publishing an article with an open access journal that turned out to have questionable scholarly practices. Dunnivant was aware of predatory journal publishing. He did some initial checking on the publisher, but initially it seemed OK and he sent in his paper. After about a week he received an email from the editor that his paper had been accepted for publication, which immediately raised red flags. He asked how it had gone through peer review so quickly, and was told that it had been recommended for publication without revision. At that point he did some additional investigation, and was on the point of emailing the editor to withdraw his paper when he found out that it had already appeared. The journal tried to bill him for the APC, but he refused to pay it.
Publishing conventions differ in different disciplines. In the humanities, there is rarely the expectation of paying to publish an article (perhaps with exceptions for publications that include many images), and the predatory journal market is much less prevalent. Sharon Alker published an article coauthored with her sister in the open access online journal Digital Defoe. Alker co-founded the society that established the journal, which is published by the Illinois State University rather than a commercial publisher. She described it as a “niche journal” with a close focus on Defoe and early-eighteenth-century studies, but with a goal to distribute that scholarship widely, to a general public as well as scholars. Therefore the online open access model was a good fit. It additionally allowed a variety of formats, including a lecture, poster session information, and pedagogical as well as theoretical research articles. Alker had a positive experience publishing with Digital Defoe because “This journal was quick and efficient. The process was smooth and the time to publication was good.” Moreover, Alker noted that “the peer review process was identical to that with a traditional journal. I would not have published there had it not been peer reviewed.” For Digital Defoe, the peer-review process is double-blind, and there is no charge to publish a paper.
In general, the researchers we spoke to were in favor of open access publishing, as long as rigorous peer review was upheld. Withers emphasized that open access journals increase the ability of researchers at institutions with smaller library budgets (domestically and especially in developing countries) to be a part of important scholarly conversations. Parker found that “OA is increasing access, but the publication costs are a major obstacle to many folks, especially in poorer countries. It’s not clear what solution to this will emerge. Publishing costs money, but who should pay?” Beyond the traditional publishing model, he sees real change in a pre-print culture, but is wary of their non-peer-reviewed status. Vernon was not convinced that OA has materially changed research in his area, as many traditional journals have opened up their archives following an embargo period, but he saw the addition of new legitimate OA journals as a positive. Dunnivant warned against publishing with an unknown journal.
The experiences of these Whitman faculty with Open Access publishing are consonant with the larger opportunities and challenges of 21st-century scholarly communications. Publishing expectations have risen in most disciplines, driving the establishment of new publishing venues (both reputable and predatory) and new measures to assess the reputation of both journals and articles. Peer review remains the hallmark of rigorous scholarship, and open access publications can support peer review in both traditional and experimental formats. The Internet has allowed nearly instantaneous global communication, and digital technology has drastically reduced the costs of reproducing scholarship. Publishing and preserving scholarship is not free, however, and the different business models for journals have a range of ethical as well as financial implications. Individual scholars, scholarly societies, academic libraries, and academic publishers all have something at stake in finding sustainable ways to ensure equitable access to research and recognition of scholarly achievement. Open Access as it is currently practiced may not (yet) offer comprehensive fixes to these questions, but the conversations it has begun are necessary if they are to be answered.