I recently finished reading a long essay by Daniel Allington, a sociologist, linguist, and book historian living in the UK. He’s been following the debates about open access (OA) in the UK quite closely, and has written a well-informed piece detailing the hopes, limitations, and mandates associated with OA. The essay, entitled, “On open access, and why it’s not the answer,” brings a very careful analytical style to the proceedings, something that we encounter too infrequently, I believe.
His conclusion? OA is not the solution, partially because advocates can’t agree on the problem to be solved, partially because the economics of the OA solution shift financing but don’t solve the basic economic problems of science publishing, partially because OA seems far too disruptive for the purported benefits, and partially because the route to accessibility is only slightly dependent on economics but significantly dependent on expertise.
To give you an idea of what this essay is like, here is a brief excerpt about how Green OA and Gold OA appear to Allington:
One of the forms of open access . . . consists in the creation and use of repositories for research writing: databases, typically run by university libraries, into which ‘pre-prints’ (basically, manuscripts) of journal articles may be uploaded for free download by anyone with access to the internet. This has recently become known as ‘green’ open access. For reasons that I shall come to in section 2, I always considered it to be a good idea. However, in itself, it represents a further drain on university budgets (since repositories are not free to run), so it is hard to see how it can facilitate increased expenditure on monographs, unless libraries adopt the policy that where journal articles are available from repositories, journal subscriptions should be cancelled. But such a policy would clearly be unsustainable: journals would close, and the supply of journal articles for upload would dry up. That is presumably why Darnton has advocated more strongly for what is now known as ‘gold’ open access, which keeps journals open by moving the burden of payment from the reader to the writer. Yet as far as the junior scholars for whom Darnton has so much sympathy are concerned, this simply amounts to giving with one hand while taking with the other: it may make it easier for them to publish monographs, but it will certainly make it harder for them to publish journal articles, unless they are wealthy enough to pay for this themselves. Many of them, of course, can barely afford to eat.
Read full post here. (Originally posted 5 November 2013)