Scholarly Communication: Academic Values and Sustainable Models

C. Judson King and five co-authors, Scholarly Communication: Academic Values and Sustainable Models, Center for Studies in Higher Education, July 27, 2006.

Abstract: This study reports on five interdisciplinary case studies that explore academic value systems as they influence publishing behavior and attitudes of University of California, Berkeley faculty. The case studies are based on direct interviews with relevant stakeholders –faculty, advancement reviewers, librarians, and editors– in five fields: chemical engineering, anthropology, law and economics, English-language literature, and biostatistics. The results of the study strongly confirm the vital role of peer review in faculty attitudes and actual publishing behavior. There is much more experimentation, however, with regard to means of in-progress communication, where single means of publication and communication are not fixed so deeply in values and tradition as they are for final, archival publication. We conclude that approaches that try to “move” faculty and deeply embedded value systems directly toward new forms of archival, “final” publication are destined largely to failure in the short-term. From our perspective, a more promising route is to (1) examine the needs of scholarly researchers for both final and in-progress communications, and (2) determine how those needs are likely to influence future scenarios in a range of disciplinary areas.

From the body of the paper:

These scholars had minimal, if any, understanding of open access models, although they were somewhat familiar with the “open” concept. We found that scholars are generally receptive to the ideal of making knowledge available for the “public good.”…

Faculty did have a good understanding that the high cost of journals is problematic and faculty in chemical engineering, in particular, viewed open access models as a possible alternative to commercial presses. Some faculty refuse to publish in particular journals because of their high cost and pricing mechanisms. Senior faculty appeared to be more comfortable with the idea of sharing material at the early stages of work (e.g., preprint servers), as did faculty in chemical engineering, biostatistics, and law and economics in general. Archaeologists already use some open access websites to share field observations….

The largest concern among scholars was the perception that open access models had little or no means of quality control, such as peer review. Some faculty in biostatistics, interestingly, equated the high cost of print journals with quality and believed that online open access models are “cheaper” and therefore might be prone to lower standards. Others expressed fear that scholarly work placed in open access models could be “stolen,” although faculty with a better understanding of the online publication process saw licensing bodies, such as Creative Commons, as a potential solution.

Scholars were generally not aware of author-pays models. Once explained, faculty responses were universally negative. Paying to publish one’s work was perceived as self-promotion and fundamentally in conflict with the peer review process. English-language literature faculty, in particular, equated the author-pays models to vanity presses, while those in the sciences equated it with advertising and therefore believed that any such publication would compromise academic integrity….

Results from the project suggest that examinations of how new media should and will affect scholarly communication and publication must recognize that, for the foreseeable future, the values surrounding final archival publication are deep and relatively inflexible in research universities. On the other hand, what scholars value and want will eventually become accepted practice. This is a much more realistic way of looking at issues than is devising models and modes of communication because of their cost efficiencies or other non-research criteria and then trying to draw scholars to them.

Comments (by Peter Suber, Open Access News, Aug. 17, 2006)

1. This report shows just how much educating we still have to do. I support the general conclusion that it’s more promising to devise systems of scholarly communication that match existing academic values than to pitch new systems, no matter how cool, that require changing or abandoning those values. But OA satisfies this criterion far better than the existing TA system. The problem is that most scholars still know very little about OA. And I must say that the authors of this study apparently did more to confuse than enlighten their interview subjects before interviewing them.
2. The interview subjects didn’t realize –in sufficient numbers– that OA journals perform peer review and can be as rigorous as TA journals. They didn’t realize that OA journals can use the same review standards, procedures, and even the same people (editors and referees) as TA journals. Nor did they realize that OA repositories can contain articles peer-reviewed at the most prestigious TA journals. (About 70% of peer-reviewed TA journals already permit author-initiated OA archiving.)
3. The interview subjects didn’t realize that OA is compatible with copyright and does not require putting works into the public domain. On the contrary, most OA initiatives want to use copyright (in the words of the BOAI) to “give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”
4. Not surprisingly, the interview subjects knew little or nothing about how OA journals pay their bills. The interviewers apparently introduced the false and harmful term “author pays” before asking interviewees what they thought about it. Indeed, these interviews demonstrate what kind of harm that term can cause. Both interviewers and interviewees need to understand (a) that most OA journals charge no author-side fees at all, (b) that at the minority of OA journals where fees exist, funders or employers typically pay on behalf of authors, or the journal waives the fee because of economic hardship, and hence (c) that these fees are rarely paid by authors out of pocket. They also need to understand that, where fees exist, they only apply to papers already accepted by peer review and that no journal using independent peer review deserves to be called a vanity press.
5. It’s still true, as I’ve been saying for too many years now, that the largest obstacles to OA are ignorance and misunderstanding.

Open Access News, Aug. 17, 2006