Sunday, June 28, 2015

Open Scholarship

Open Scholarship seems an odd term to me: when was scholarship "closed"?

Willinsky (2009) offers a division of publishers into Independent Journals, Scholarly Societies and Commercial Publishers. They then trace open access back to the 1990s. But what might have been more useful would be to look at when academic publishing started to be closed. I would assume this might be around the time of the industrialization of scientific research in WW2.

Weller (2011) looks at scholarship from a more points of view than Willinsky (2009), looking at application and teaching as two scholarly activities which benefit from open access. Curiously neither author seems to worry much about scholarly discourse, which I thought was the whole point of the academic exercise. That is, you are not so much trying to set something in stone by publishing an academic paper, but continuing a discussion.

I am a member of the US based IEEE, who are a major publisher of engineering standards and papers. While IEEE is a scholarly society, their publishing arm is so big it is more like a commercial publisher, although they have a tradition of also supporting quirky little journals, which are more like independents.

The IEEE Open Access Publishing Options gives an interesting insight into how a publisher sees open access. Essentially, in IEEE's world "open access" is synonymous with "author pays". That is, the question from the publisher's point of view with open access is "who pays us?". If the reader is not paying for publication, then the next best option for the publisher is to get the author to pay.

The IEEE divides its open access publishing into:
  1. Topical: Only three of IEEE's thousands of journals are fully open access, the first of which, IEEE Photonics Journal, was only started in 2012.
  2. Hybrid: Authors have the option of paying to make content in otherwise closed journals open. The advantage for the author is that they avoid their paper being ghettoized in an "open" publication. IEEE point out that papers in high impact factor subscription based journals can be made open.
  3. Mega: IEEE has created new "rapid-decision, open access mega journal" called IEEE Access. In some ways this is an attempt to reverse the trend which has seen increasingly specialized journals. The most interesting point with IEEE Access is the emphasis on rapid publication (4 weeks for review). However as a paper costs the author US$1,750.00 to publish, this is not open, in the sense of being available to the majority of authors (who could not afford the fee).
What seems curious is that, as far as I can tell, the review process for IEEE's papers is still unpaid, even where the author pays for rapid publication. Why should I, as a reviewer, give one of these papers priority, when I am not getting paid more (or anything at all) for this work?

Normally academia operates on an informal system of favors: do this for me and I will do something for you later. But if a commercial publisher, or quasi-commercial publisher (like IEEE), is charging a premium up-front fee for a rush service, what is the incentive for me to cooperate?


Willinsky, J. (2009). The stratified economics of open access. Economic Analysis and Policy, 39(1), 53-70. Retrieved from
Weller, M. (2011). The digital scholar: How technology is transforming scholarly practice. A&C Black. Retrieved from

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