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Part 1: A Primer on Open Access Publishing by Jason Colditz

This post is the first in a series by Jason Colditz, who spends his days at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a full-time Research Coordinator (Department of Psychiatry), Teaching Assistant for the Dissertation Research Seminar (Department of Administrative and Policy Studies), and has consulted on several university-sponsored and individual research projects. In the Social and Comparative Analysis in Education graduate program, his comprehensive project focuses on policies and economics of Open Access publishing. In this set of blog posts, Jason extends a conversation started earlier on PhD2Published, introducing us to the world of Open Access publishing and exploring its implications for future academic publishing and careers.

Open Access (OA) publishing is a game-changer for researchers and academics who produce scholarly works.  While mathematics and physics have a rich history of making articles publicly available and medicine is moving in that direction thanks to funding mandates, OA is a relatively new development in social sciences and humanities fields. Over a series of posts, we will help you to understand the basics of OA, provide resources to help you make informed decisions about OA options, and consider the long term impact of OA publishing for emerging researchers and professionals in academia.

Background: Open Access as a Geopolitical Grassroots Movement

Recently, Open Access (OA) has received increased public attention on a global scale. The UK, Argentina, and others are moving towards federal mandates to make publicly funded research results available to the public, the US is under increased pressure to enact similar OA legislation, and advocacy groups are springing up around the globe. A driving force of this movement stems from universities and academic library associations that are unable to keep up with the hyperinflation of journal prices (i.e., “serials crisis”). The recent public mobilization arises from a growing awareness and discontent towards the unsustainability of journal publishers’ current business paradigms. In brief, for-profit journal publishers continually increase profit margins by charging the public to access the research that they have funded and by charging academic institutions to access the research results that they have produced. Researchers, librarians, and the public are uniting at a grassroots level, demanding a new model for sharing research results. Globally, researchers are boycotting publishing in Elsevier journals because of questionable business practices, and the public is petitioning the US government to mandate openness in publicly funded research results. As our global culture increasingly demands research findings to fuel innovation and social progress, and with technology making web-based electronic publications the norm, we are on the brink of shifting paradigms for sharing scientific knowledge…

Welcome to Open Access!

Simply put, OA is the free release of knowledge to the public who sponsor and benefit from it. This paradigm allows patients and providers to access medical research that informs treatment, allows educators to draw from relevant findings in teaching and learning theory, allows public policy makers and advocates to make scientifically grounded arguments, and allows scientists and the general public to stay abreast of current knowledge across all research disciplines. From an epistemological perspective, OA allows researchers to more readily access and build upon previous knowledge. From an academic career perspective, OA creates broader dissemination and citability of published articles. The only downside (if you can call it that) in moving towards a more open model of knowledge sharing is that publishers will need to adapt their profit models and academia will need to adapt to new technologies and develop new standards for evaluating the prestige of published works. This is similar to the process of adaptation that the record labels and musicians undertook when technology caught up to the recording industry. If we can learn a lesson from this recent history: don’t spend time and energy clinging to dated market conventions and do spend some time gaining an understanding of the emerging system. If you should adapt to emerging norms and remain competitive in open knowledge markets, the upcoming posts will help you to become confident in choosing appropriate venues for publishing your articles and will show you how to share your results beyond conventional publication channels.

Moving Along…

Now that you have some background, it is time to move into applications and provide you with some tools to make the publishing process easier. The next post will talk a little bit about author copyright agreements and provide resources to help you publish your research directly into the public domain (the “OA Gold” model). That will bridge us into discussing the “OA Green” model where authors publicly archive their published works. Finally, we will wrap-up with some practical considerations of OA, assessing article prestige (i.e., impact metrics), and how OA is contributing to new ways of measuring article impact and how that might affect your future academic career.

In the meantime, if you want to do your homework on OA, I recommend starting at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). If you do the Twitter thing, there are always interesting live updates on the #OpenAccess tag, or you can tweet @ColditzJB with questions.

Stay Open,

Jason

Follow Jason on Twitter: @colditzjb


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