A Short Riff on Open Access Journals

Over the past few months, my good friend and co-editor of the International Journal of the Commons, Frank van Laerhoven has spoken and written eloquently about open access scientific journals in a number of places.  This link (http://www.oastories.org/2011/09/netherlands-journal-international-journal-of-the-commons/#more-220) goes to an interview with Frank on the subject.

For the present purposes, I wanted to make a few comments for a broader readership that may not know what I’m mean by open access publications.  I’m referring to online academic journals that are available free of charge.  If your child is working on a school project, try these.  If your interested in a specific area, check them out.  There are many available.  So on to my comments…  

First, open access scientific publications are growing rapidly.  These are different from blogs, such as this one, and other unreviewed web sources.  Open access journals are often peer reviewed to the same or higher standards than print journals.  IJC is currently tracked by Scopus (the European academic journal accreditor) and will hopefully be tracked by ISI (the American version) soon.  All of our articles are reviewed by 3 experts in the field in a double-blind process.  So if there are no differences in quality to traditional journals, what are the differences?

There are two main ones in my mind.  First, it continues to baffle me why journals still force publications into an annual print cycle of monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual publication.  The internet allows us to immediately share the latest breaking scientific advancements as soon as they have been reviewed.  It also provides a mechanism to have others comment and respond – either in a reviewed format or in a more public forum – in manners that are missing or veerrry slow in print versions.  

Second, our journal’s readership, authors, and editorial board are scattered globally.  Many are in developing countries.  One of the major issues with traditional publishing formats is that journal subscription is geared toward libraries.  As a result, individual subscriptions and access to individual articles is prohibitively expensive.  If individuals don’t have access to a Research One caliber library, they often have no access to the publications, electronically or in print.  This is unacceptable for us, given our topic.  Instead, we offer open access freely to anyone with internet access.  In addition, authors retain copyrights to their work, as opposed to the copyrights in traditional journals where authors and reviewers alike often work as indentured servants to the publishing houses.

The downside to this free access, is that we require a publication fee for authors.  Through volunteerism (editors and reviewers), low-cost (and somewhat minimalist) copy-editing, and minimal overhead, we can keep the charges to $15/page.  A standard article comes in at around $300.  This contrasts with other pay-for-publication journals of closer to $1000.  We know that this is a challenge, but granting agencies are quite open to covering these costs.  We also try to offset these expenses for developing country submissions.

My view is that open access journalism will continue to grow at an exponential pace.  The traditional journals continue to be under attack for profiteering off the hard work of others and offer flawed output.  I don’t see them going away entirely, but I’m optimistic for the future of our journal and other open access offerings.  Please support us and see what is available at:  http://thecommonsjournal.org 

One response to this post.

  1. I like the general comments.

    What you don’t address is how, with a rapid expansion of open access journalism, the peer-review process can keep up. How can all the new journals possibly access enough quality reviewers to ensure the process maintains a necessary rigor? How many times are journals now relying on 2 reviewers – when will that become 1 reviewer? When will it come down to an editor’s judgement? When will this all become journalism and not science?


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