Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Open access is no cybertarian fantasy

I tip my hat to derridata for bringing this one to my attention. It's written by Toby Miller, who I've previously credited (in my "Melissa Gregg" post) for his work on "the well tempered self". Although he does not specifically refer to that here, it is easy to read between the lines, as I attempted to do, to see how that could specifically be applied to the "author function". Or, as he puts it this article, "Who can stay abreast of journals as forms of knowledge rather than personnel evaluation?" Another reason I find  this issue so interesting is that I make my living researching, ghostwriting, and editing journal articles, along with the odd book, for the higher education sector.

 The greed of publishers never ceases to amaze me. Afterall, what they are basically doing is "double dipping": the universities churn out the articles that are published in the journals, and then the university has to in effect "buy them back" by subscribing to the journals. This is why I've always supported open access. As Miller makes abundantly clear though, such a transition would require considerable institutional support. Like I also said, there could be some very good ramifications for independent scholars/bloggers, who are frustrated by the prohibitively expensive tollbooths that publishers have put on the information superhighway.

I'm a bit cynical too about smaller publishers, such as Zer0 Books, who appear to spend all of their time looking to turn the blogosphere into private intellectual real estate. A bit of skepticism seems in order in regard to their rhetoric. Do they really offer an alternative to the mainstream publishing model? From what I can see, their business model merely exploits Web 2.0 tools to discern "market trends" i.e. who is dominating the attention space, whereas the big publishers use more expensive and accurate bibliometrics, such as Web of Science. If offered no other choice, I'd still opt for the established academic publishers because at least you can be sure they attempt to offer a more rigorous form of quality control i.e. double blind peer review. In regard to the blogosphere/Zer0 Books model, I've never forgotten Cory Doctorow's argument that the authority of any Internet based data ranking will be inherently problematic because of a reliance on metadata standards. Doctorow offers a detailed argument as to why these standards should be regarded as "metacrap", which still holds up overall, even if we want to make more allowance for how information overload may be equally culpable as laziness, egocentrism, stupidity, and falsehood, in determining the meta-utopia. It appears that every argument in support of folksonomy as a form of democratization can be logically countered by Doctorow, insofar as metadata exerts a formative influence on which information is available to choose from. Hence, one must never make the mistake of conflating market populism with genuine democratic populism.

What we need then is a real alternative which combines the advantages of open access and quality control. I better go now though because I have some more projects to complete, but I hope to find time for blogging again soon.

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