October 24-30 is International Open Access Week, and there are many events taking place on the University of Alberta campus, including:
Open Access for digital resources is not a new idea. It emerged in the 1990s, partly in response to profiteering on the part of academic journal publishers. The problem, as highlighted by this infographic from the Canadian Research Knowledge Network, is this: the results of publicly funded research are handed over to publishers, who earn significant profits by selling access to that research to publicly funded institutions. The cost of digital journal subscriptions is significant, and fees are increasing every year at rates far higher than the rate of inflation. The system is unsustainable. The Open Access movement believes the results of publicly-funded research should be free to the public.
The multi-decade lifespan of the modern Open Access movement suggests there are barriers to widespread adoption, and that's true. We could talk about the publishing industry's creation of Article Publishing Charges (APCs), which are a bait-and-switch replacement for subscription fees. We could talk about the embargoes placed upon research, limiting its placement in open access systems until two or three years after the for-profit publication date. We could talk about the publishing industry's past attempts to pass a Research Works Act in the United States, which would have made open access publishing illegal. We could talk about the barriers to Open Access publishing for books. We could talk about the Tri-Council's new Open Access Research Publishing policy, which mandates that research funded by their agencies be placed in open access repositories, and the response of indigenous communities who are concerned their work with sacred knowledge will be inappropriately shared.
Each of these are reason enough to advocate for widespread attention to Open Access methods and processes, but we've decided to focus on the Catch-22 faced by researchers who do not yet feel free to use open journals for publishing due to possible career impacts.
Why is this? In the academic world, the importance of publishing in top-tier journals is often emphasized as demonstration of a "significant outcome" on the road to tenure, or as criteria used by hiring committees for faculty jobs. When it comes to published works, "significance" is generally indicated by the researcher's successful publication in top-tier journals.
One issue is the cost of APCs, which can be as high as $5000 per article. Another factor is the ingrained system by which "authoritative" journals are determined. Though it has been met with justifiable criticism, Thomson-Reuter's Journal Impact Factor (JIF) is still seen as the most valuable method for measuring the relative value of academic journals. The 2016 rankings place Open Access journals very low on the overall spectrum: the top-ranked open access publication scores 75% lower than the top journal in the report.
Herein lies the conundrum. Researchers may understand the value of open access publishing and want to share their research with the world, but they also know that publication in a prestigious journal will significantly aid their careers. They are forced to make a choice. They either submit their work to a journal whose publisher profits from the publication, restricts access, and charges institutions for the privilege of viewing articles; or they submit their work to a “green” open access journal that removes private profiteering from public research but compromises their ability to win new funding, find academic positions or possibly attain tenure.
The solution is an achievable one: students and faculties should pressure departments and institutions to adopt thoughtful policies on research publication, and hiring and tenure committees should consider the value of open access publishing as part of the creation of their assessment criteria.
Why not let it start with you? Take a look at what the Open Access movement has to offer, and then let your voice be heard within your institution, for the sake of the public good.