Friday, February 8, 2008

Boycott? I think not.

I fully support open-access scholarship, but find danah boyd's recent post on boycotting "locked-down" journals naive at best, and offensive at worst.

First of all, I think she overstates the "lock-down." I've published articles with Sage and Taylor&Francis, and was able to publish almost identical draft versions here. All I did was hand-write that provision onto my contract before I signed it, and no one ever objected. And while I agree that there is some sort of "black market" economy for exchanging articles, I'm willing to accept this as a viable tactic against an over-arching publication for profit strategy. In my experience, one of the quickest ways to alienate people from your cause is to invalidate existing acts of resistance because they don't fit your model. That's just scientific positivism applied to personal politics, and I don't like playing the "my politics are better than your politics" game.

This brings me to my main objection: danah's overall tone is so patronising to academics that I can't help but feel insulted. I mean, really, how do unsupported claims like this one - "If scholars are publishing for audiences of zero, no wonder no one respects them" - help our shared cause of reforming academic publishing?

Danah's position disrespects years of scholarship and community, and it dismisses outright the possibility that an academic might find genuine pride, or satisfaction, or joy in such work. Surely good ethnographers would want to ask a scholar what she gets out of a given practice before they tell her, or speak for her? And as an early career academic, I was most unimpressed by being given the option of becoming a "punk" or "conservative" scholar:

"Young punk scholars: Publish only in open-access journals in protest, especially if you're in a new field. This may cost you advancement or tenure, but you know it's the right thing to do...

More conservative young scholars: publish what you need to get tenure and then stop publishing in closed venues immediately upon acquiring tenure. I understand why you feel the need to follow the rules. This is fine, but make a point by stopping this practice the moment you don't need it."

What is this, high school? I honestly fail to see how this "open" model gives me any more space to manoeuvre as a scholar, or as a human being.

In any case, Mel Gregg also takes issue with danah's "capacity to diagnose the pitfalls of an entire industry and the motivations of all of us who choose to work in it" and I appreciated Jason Wilson's comments on how journal publishing actually works. But since I also really like constructive criticism, and I haven't provided any alternatives here, I'll second Alex Halavais' suggestion:

"If you want to find the Achilles heal, the catalyst that would get things moving much faster, it's easy enough: follow the money. Pressure NSF, MacArthur, etc., to require open publication for all funded research. Get state legislatures to do the same for state schools: if you get a summer grant or fellowship, your work needs to be published in public, so that the public who paid for it can access it."

I encourage Canadian citizens and researchers to contact the following organisations to voice your opinions on these matters:

SSHRC | NSERC | Killam Trusts

Researchers can also apply for funding from the Government of Canada's Intellectual Property Mobilization Program (IPM).

Canadian Intellectual Property Office | HRSDC Learning and Post-Secondary Education | Provincial Ministries of Education

Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
| Canadian Federation of Students

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