Chris Uggen's Blog: ed's desk post: going for gold in open-access publishing?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

ed's desk post: going for gold in open-access publishing?

Here's a collaborative post with Doug Hartmann from today's ed's desk (picture courtesy Sarah Shannon).

As editors and publishers of TSP, we take more than a casual interest in open-source publishing debates. And though some form of open access seems a foregone conclusion for publicly-funded research, there's still little consensus on the forms it will take and who will ultimately bear the costs of editing articles, administering peer review, and disseminating and maintaining scholarly work.

A new Economist article reviews open-access trends in Europe, foreshadowing some of the changes scholars are likely to see stateside. It describes three basic models for the future--a gold model, a green model, and a third way. In the gold model adopted by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), authors are charged $1,350-$2,900 to make their works available for free online. In the green model favored by the National Institutes of health, researchers continue to publish in traditional journals but they must also make their work available online within one year on the free repository site PubMed. A third model, exemplified by university-funded public repositories such as arXiv, does away with "peer" review altogether. Scientists upload drafts of their papers into this public archive, subject to open review from all comers.

One tension in these models is balancing timely public access against traditional review systems for scientific discovery and dissemination. In trying to develop and sustain TSP, these issues are never far from our minds. Don't get us wrong: we don't see our site as a medium for adjudicating or releasing original research. Nevertheless, with our peer-reviewed white papers and other special features, we do offer striking original content that includes both new data and new arguments. Moreover, our access policies allow us to quickly bring this research and writing to broader public audiences -- which makes us the envy of our editor friends working for standard scholarly journals.

Thus far, we've been able to preserve access to our articles and sustain our small shop (with the collaboration and assistance of a terrific forward-looking publishing partner in WW Norton). As editors, we know that we could do more good work if we had the sort of resources that another business model might provide. But as scholars ourselves, we "get it" -- open access is bringing exciting changes and, if we do it right, greater visibility and influence for our work. For example, opinion pieces in the New York Times and Washington Post linked directly to the full-text of one of our reports, with the Times also linking to a summary document written for the Scholars Strategy Network. We're certain that the absence of a journal paywall made it easier for these newspapers to link to our work. Yet we're equally certain that this work wouldn't have been cited at all unless the underlying research in the reports had been screened and published through a traditional peer-reviewed journal system.

Green or gold, we're just trying to build a sustainable model that works for TSP and our readers. With so many other scholars, editors, and publishers engaged in similar projects, we might see a whole new rainbow of publishing models in the very near future.

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