Back when I was a consultant, I had a client who was convinced that Microsoft Windows was free software. So, he insisted that all applications ran on Microsoft’s web server. To him, the Apache server was an expensive proposition. Yet Microsoft is not at all in the business of free software, but their cost is hidden from the consumer.
Similarly, for professors and many graduate students, the costs of academic publishing are hidden. UQAM pays for my unrestricted access to research papers. Open Access research papers might have marginally more impact. However, the costs of Open Access are significant for me, just like the costs of Apache were important for my client:
- There are far fewer Open Access journals to choose from.
- On average, Open Access journals have lower standing.
Open access to research papers is the responsible thing to do. How do we change the system? Do we boycott restricted journals? No. There is nothing wrong with restricted journals. We should not force them to close, we should evolve so that they become irrelevant. For now, they serve their purpose. There is no adequate drop-in replacement.
Disruption is the solution. Younger folks may not remember this, but in the nineties, Microsoft had a tight grasp of the software market. Right now, Microsoft’s monopoly is irrelevant as far as I am concerned. Anyone can buy a PC, install Linux on it and access everything that matters. Of course, the real story is not that Linux has beaten Microsoft Windows. Instead, it is the operating system that has lost relevance.
How do we generate disruption? By providing alternatives. It is important to realize that these alternatives do not have to be better. Instead, they have to be more convenient and simpler. Unfortunately, I do not believe that Open Access journals are disruptive. They are challengers, certainly, but due to economics, they may fail to subvert the current system.
Several years ago, I decided to publish all my preprints to arxiv. You can even grab an atom feed of my publications. Arxiv is indexed by Google Scholar and DBLP. ArXiv is well managed. Their web site is usable. Before I used arXiv, I would merely post my papers on my web site. This is an individual choice. While it is not apolitical, it does not require me to change anybody’s mind.
To me, the single most important recent event in academic publishing has been the publication by Perelman of his solution to the Poincaré conjecture on arxiv. This is truly a historical event.
Self-publishing is both simpler and more convenient than traditional publishing. It is disruptive. As is often the case with disruptive solutions, it lacks some important features. For example, reputation, peer-review, quality control, review, validation, authentication are difficult with self-publishing. But that is to be expected. The solution is not to try to emulate these features one by one. Indeed, we may find that many of these important missing features are not relevant.
Further reading: Peer Review is Vanity Publishing