Open Access petition

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Every once in a while, an article is discussed or mentioned here on Language Log that many of our readers can't access without paying a hefty fee, whether to pay to view the article or to subscribe to the journal in which it appears. Many of these same readers are American taxpayers, and much of the research in those same articles is funded by governmental organizations (such as the NSF and the NIH) that are of course underwritten by American taxpayers. Why — the argument goes — should taxpayers pay again to access the results of the research that they are already paying for? What prevents those results from being disseminated (relatively) freely, so that all may benefit?

This is the gist of this petition that has been posted at the Obama Administration "We The People" petition site by the good folks at access2research. 25,000 total signatures are needed by June 19; as of this writing, they're almost halfway there. Please take a look at the petition and sign if you're for it.

And please also tell others about this petition! Stuart Shieber (computational linguist, open access advocate, and Director of Harvard University's Office of Scholarly Communication) has written and shared a message suitable for passing on to colleagues, friends, and family. Or, you can point them to the video found below the fold.

[Hat-tip to Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Open Access Project (among many other Open-Access-related hats that he wears) for the video link via G+.]


  1. Ethan said,

    May 23, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

    As the petition itself makes clear, a requirement for public access already applies to publications resulting from work supported by the NIH. The petition is to extend this to work supported by other federal agencies.
    Probably anyone supported by the NIH can provide a sad tale of the myriad ways in which the existing NIH public access mechanisms and bureaucratic oversight are imperfect, but that does not invalidate the overall policy goal.

  2. Pali, Cambodian, Lao, etc. said,

    May 23, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

    The situation for non-fiction publishing is at a crossroads, however, I'm not at all convinced that any of the roads are leading to any particular destination.

    Peer-review (in this generation) works poorly, takes a minimum of one calendar year to transpire, and results in fewer worthwhile revisions than professional editing (by an editor, rather than a "peer" who may have no salient expertise, i.e., simply using geography and language-family of scholarship as markers of salience).

    An article posted to a blog can reach hundreds of people instantly (thousands gradually); generally, if you post an article on your blog complaining about a peer-reviewed article (your own or otherwise), that complaint will be more widely read than the article itself.

    At this point, books by Routledge are churned out with no more editing than a blog ("digital on demand", etc., for specialized non-fiction) and even the old giants in Asian studies (like Brill in Leiden, etc.) send books to be published with typographical errors in the table of contents (yes, an actual example I noticed myself) –much less is there any interest in (or possibility of) fact-checking or meaningful revision of the content before going to press.

    "…direct question and answer ([even if] not quite Socratic) is sorely missing from the peer-review process. The printed page can divert the reader's attention away from evidence that contradicts the interpreter but the simplicity of asking such a question brings a great train of bafflegab to a halt."

    The role of "reviewer" is then given to junior PhD-candidates, who dare not actually criticize books in print by the elder powers whom they imagine (probably falsely) to be their potential future employers, and so on. (To see a young Sanskritist's lamentations on this issue, see: )

    The highest level of scholarship comes to look like a dismal cycle of the blind leading the blind –and I can honestly say that nobody involved in the process seems to be made happy by it.

    Is there an alternative to "Open Access"? Is there either a private-sector or a non-profit alternative that is actually superior to "Open Access", given that the entire (predatory) process presumes that the author doesn't get paid a cent for his/her work anyway?

    I expect that the industry will go through a process of "disintermediation" no less dramatic than what happened to the sale of hotel rooms and airplane tickets. If I can communicate directly with Victor Mair (on this very blog) what really is the justification for Victor Mair sending his PDF to Routledge (and making money for them, but none for himself) before I end up seeing it?

  3. John Lawler said,

    May 23, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

    A recent post by Cosma Shalizi addresses the peer review issue quite thoughtfully, I think.

  4. Brett said,

    May 23, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

    @Pali, Cambodian, Lao, etc.: I don't know what discipline(s) you have experience in, but your description of peer review bears no resemblance whatsoever to how the process works in the physical (and, from what I understand, although I have no personal experience, life) sciences. Research is disseminated not through books, but through journal articles, which can be refereed in a matter of months or even weeks. Moreover, reviewing is always done by individuals with doctorates, and the reviewing is anonymous, so that there can be scant fear of retaliation against negative reviewers.

  5. Rubrick said,

    May 23, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

    Please take a look at the petition and sign if you're for it.

    I don't think I have ever seen an "if you're for it" in a petition request before. Kudos to you.

    I'm still waiting for the day someone says " 'Like' my page on FaceBook if you actually like it!".

  6. Paul Garrett said,

    May 23, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

    In mathematics, the peer review process typically takes at least 6 months, if only because any faster response from an (unpaid) referee will garner correspondingly more work. Yes, referees typically have Ph.D.'s, and are thought to be approximately competent in the topic under consideration, but journals nowadays explicitly deny that correctness is the referee's responsibility, but is the author's. Most often, this doesn't matter, because the result is of no consequence to anyone but the author's CV, tenure, or whatever.

    But, then, equally, publication after retyping or reformatting to fit a for-profit publisher's house style is of no consequence. The most crucial issue is that up-for-tenure junior faculty prove to more-senior faculty, blithely ignorant of the substance of the junior person's work, that the work is "significant". Certification by gate-keepers is the standard. Has nothing at all to do with publication per se.

    Yes, once-upon-a-time, there was no internet, but now there is.

  7. Chad Nilep said,

    May 25, 2012 @ 12:17 am

    @Pali, Cambodian, Lao, etc.

    Your comment addresses three ideas (at least), but I'm not sure if I've understood the connections you are drawing among them. Peer review, copy editing, and open-access publishing are three different areas.

    Peer review and copy editing are different in intent. Peer review is generally carried out by academics or professionals in the same field (e.g. linguistics professors or linguist-researchers review journal articles or monographs in linguistics). Its goal is to verify that the scientific arguments, data, theories, etc. are generally sound. Copy editing is generally carried out by professional editors who often have some level of training and expertise in the field, but whose primary goal is to see that the manuscript and resulting publication are well-presented.

    Both open-access and 'traditional' publishers make use of both peer review and copy editing (though specifics vary widely). The main difference is in who pays for this work. In the case of traditional publishers, it's generally the subscribers, whereas for open-access publishers it's often authors or sometimes other funders such as grant institutions or government agencies.

    There are important issues to be addressed around each of these ideas, but none necessarily obviates the others.

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