Open access and the falsest of false dilemmas

It’s been a while since I’ve complained about the narrow understandings of open access that too many people have got, but I’ve been meaning to post about Keith Burgess-Jackson’s provacatively titled Why I Publish in “Predatory” Journals—and Why You Should, Too. He argues rightly that open-access journals have several advantages over traditional journals, but fails to imagine relevant alternatives. To summarize the advantages he discusses:

  1. Audience: More people will read a freely available article than one that’s only available to subscribers and pirates.
  2. Publication speed: Traditional journals can be slow both to review an article and to put it into print.
  3. Length: Traditional journals often won’t publish papers longer than 7-8,000 words.
  4. Ownership: Traditional journals often require authors to relinquish copyright.
  5. Referees: Journal referees often respond in obtuse ways. They either reject a paper for weird reasons or demand unnecessary changes.

On the basis of these reasons, he argues that (a) we should stop publishing in traditional journals and (b) we should start paying open-access journals to publish our papers.

This is the falsest of false dilemmas, and the recommendation he arrives at is pretty bad.

To be clear: Audience and ownership are important. It’s in our interest as scholars to make our writing as widely available as possible. Open-access journals serve those interests. However, whether a journal has a fast turn-around, publishes demi-monographs, or accepts things without criticism has nothing to do with open-access.

So the reasons on Burgess-Jackson’s list are really of two kinds, and they militate for two alternatives that he doesn’t consider.

The first is open-access journals where the author doesn’t pay. This is sometimes called Platinum OA. It has all the advantages of open-access without perverse incentives to the publisher.

When the author pays to be published, the publisher’s business model depends only on accepting things. They have no incentive to do any more than that. This is fine with Burgess-Jackson because— as he makes quite clear— he does not want any editorial scrutiny applied to his submissions. He writes:

By the time I submit an essay for publication, I have worked it over for months, writing, re-writing, and re-writing again. I rarely ask for feedback from anyone, which is why you find dedications to my dogs and to deceased friends and relatives—rather than expressions of thanks to colleagues— in my published articles. Some writers do not need help. When we submit our work for publication, it is because we believe it to be ready for publication.1

What he wants is someplace that will take his polished gems and make them public— no matter how long they are or whether other people find them wanting. There are such places, viz. institutional repositories, archives, and websites.2

Contra the provocation, you ought not publish in predatory journals. If you find his reasons motivating, they suggest instead that your paper should go to an open-access journal where the author doesn’t pay or to a repository.3

  1. I quote this at length because the hubris amuses me.
  2. I have papers which I posted to my website which have been cited in published research because someone found them useful. All the desiderata achieved, with no payment involved.
  3. For a more enlightened discussion of OA, see Bryan Roberts and David Teira’s The Challenges of Open Access Publishing in Philosophy.

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