Sunday, September 09, 2007

Time, Publishing Politics And A Quandary

It seems that I am becoming an indolent blogger. It seems like ages since I posted anything. Let me say 'sorry' for this. This is turning into a very busy semester. It is also the case that other things going on in my life are permitting me less time to blog.

My topic today though concerns the politics of publishing. This is a topic that I have mentioned before. It seem that academic publishers have themselves a new lobbying and marketing organization, called PRISM which is dedicated to help 'educate' folks about the 'evils' of Open Access publishing. Naturally enough, the claims made by the people at PRISM are laughable. In a more agricultural arena, their claims might simply be rejected a 'bollocks'. Unfortunately, in the arena of business, where money talks and common sense (which seldom has many dollars to spare) gets pushed aside, organisations such as this have a bad habit of making head way, despite the complete lack of virtue of their position.

It seems that the large academic publishers are indulging in a strategy of what is sometimes called 'FUD' (short for 'Fear, Uncertainty, Dread') about how Open Access to academic work will mean the end of peer review, a decline in academic standards, the sky falling in, and other utter rubbish. Of course, the publishers are just trying to defend the status quo, in which we academics do research, write it up and submit it to journals, without asking for a penny for our labors. The journals then have other academics referee the submitted works (again for free). Finally, when papers are accepted, the journals then get to charge huge amounts for access to work they never paid a thing for. Of course, for them this is a nice deal. They get to make money off the work of others, without paying for it. No wonder they see open access as a threat (to their bottom line) and are consequently prepared to say (and spend) anything to defend the situation.

It seems though that a backlash is developing. Mike Rossner, Executive Director of Rockefeller University Press recently issued an open letter to The American Association of Publishers asking them to curtail the PRISM related silliness. This is even a topic that has been covered by Nature (but guess what, Nature want payment to read this article, unless your library has a subscription -- bloody typical) . So, things seem to be heating up.

I have been a fan and an advocate of Open Access for years. Back in the 1990s, I was involved in an outfit that aimed to make philosophy research available for free. I have also served as editor for an entirely free on-line journal, that permitted authors to retain their own copyright on their works. However, I fear that I too have allowed myself to fall under the sway of the big publishing houses and their dubious habits.

Just last week, I agreed to act as a referee for a major journal in my field. I will have to read, comment upon, and make recommendations on a 75 page paper within the next three weeks. For this I will get paid nothing. I also just signed a contract with one of the major supporters behind PRISM. The whole situation raises a quandary. Should I break the contract I have just signed? This will take some thinking about. Suggestions would be welcome.

To make matters worse, I am sure that all this smoke on the topic of publishers will be used by my less than productive co-workers as their latest justification for publishing nothing. Their profound lack of productivity will now be justified on quasi-'political' grounds, that they are refusing to submit, not because they have no original ideas, have nothing to say and are generally bone idle, but rather as an (ersatz) political actions against the evils of the major publishing houses.

Given this circumstance, it is a small wonder that academia is in such a mess. Active academics such as myself have to think carefully about how we interact with important publishers. In the meantime, the deadwood 'I publish Zero' style pseudo-professors will have been given yet another excuse for their sloth. Should I decide to take a stand and break my contract with the publisher, I will run the risk of sounding like one of the bone idle types, unless I can find an alternative venue for the contracted work. So, the situation is a bloody mess! No wonder I have had so little time to write this blog of late.

The CP

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