What Is the Best Type of Open Access for Philosophy and Other Humanities Disciplines? (guest post by Roberta Millstein)


The following is a guest post* by Roberta L. Millstein, professor of philosophy at the University of California, Davis.


The Implications of Plan S: What Is the Best Type of Open Access for Philosophy and Other Humanities Disciplines?
by Roberta L. Millstein

On September 12, Daily Nous posted about Plan S, an initiative requiring that any academic publications, including books, resulting from research funded by a number of major European research funders “be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.”

Both its advocates and its detractors think Plan S might have serious effects on the publishing landscape in Europe. Non-Europeans will almost certainly experience downstream effects as the journals we publish in change in response. But if Plan S potentially throws the publishing system off balance, what do we want it to look like as it regains equilibrium? Where do we want it to land?

Since Plan S’s announcement, I have been following the discussion in various venues with great interest, noting that there seems to be a lack of clarity on two points: 1) whether posting author’s versions of articles (lacking journal formatting and pagination) to repositories (so-called “green” access) “counts” as open access for the purpose of Plan S, and 2) whether Plan S is allowing for, or fostering, or promoting, no-fee open access (so-called “diamond” or “platinum” access, in contrast to access in which the author pays fees, so-called “gold” access).

I imagine that these points will be clarified over time. In the meantime, I think that philosophers should take these issues seriously—consider how they will affect us and consider what will bring about the best publishing system.

As background, let’s recall that one big push for open access comes from the exorbitant fees charged by a number of publishers for their journals. These fees are becoming difficult for many libraries to pay, and they are also high for individuals to pay on a per-article basis. Meanwhile, most of the “product” is produced by academics for free; we write the articles, we peer review the papers, and we edit the journals. And then there is the fact that, to the extent that we are paid, many of us are paid through public monies, yet the public is not given access to what they have paid for.

Finally, there are a number of categories of people who lack access to for-pay journals: academics at universities with budget challenges, people looking for academic employment, independent scholars, and the general public. So, there seems to be a strong ethical case for open access.

But what type of open access? Would allowing articles to be posted to repositories immediately upon publication be sufficient (as Peter Suber has suggested in response to Plan S)?

I think repositories are great—to give one example, I’ve used Philsci-Archive for about as long as it has existed, served on its Board for several years, and even wrote a blog post encouraging people to use it. But while repositories increase access, they are not sufficient on their own (that is, not sufficient if journals are still charging for access to the “definitive” version), for the following reasons.

First, they can create version confusion. Sometimes people post pre-prints; later, there is a more “definitive” version, but it’s the pre-print that gets cited. And it can become difficult to track the number of citations of a paper, with potentially multiple versions in the repository plus the journal’s own version. If the article were freely available at the journal’s site, it would be more likely to be the cited version (and editors could do their best to enforce those citations).

Second (and this is particular true for humanities disciplines like philosophy), we often want a precise quote with page numbers. Those who only have access to the repository but cannot afford access to the journal will not be able to cite properly. They might not even have the proper quote, given that edits are often made at the proof stage and may or may not appear in the author version. So, the various categories of people who lack access are all disadvantaged by not having access to the journal version.

Third, just because something is in a repository doesn’t mean it can be easily found by someone who isn’t familiar with such repositories. I frequently get requests for my papers that are available not only on PhilSci-Archive but also on my website. After my most recent such request, I googled the title to see how easy it was to find. A regular Google search did not turn up the free versions, at least toward the top of the search listings; only a Google Scholar search did.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, allowing for repositories to satisfy “open access” means that the unfair and exploitative system that we currently have in place will remain essentially unchanged. There will be no incentive for toll access journals to do anything different than what they are doing now.

The bottom line is that while repositories are useful and fulfill various needs, for the purpose of providing full open access we need something more.

So, then what is the answer? Many philosophers rightly fear open access that just shifts the costs from readers to authors via author processing charges (APCs). Most of us don’t have grants to be able to afford that. We need journals that provide full access to the journal versions of articles (copyedited and formatting) without charging readers or authors. We already have a few such journals, including Contemporary Aesthetics, Ergo, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Philosopher’s Imprint (requests a $20 donation from authors), and Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology (full disclosure: I am a co-editor), but we need more. And it would be good if some of our existing and prestigious journals could be open access, not just new journals.

How can that be achieved? Obviously, that is a complicated subject. Luckily for us, others have already studied it. Check out “Converting Scholarly Journals to Open Access: A Review of Approaches and Experiences“. Note especially that there have been a number of success stories in converting (“flipping”) journals from toll access to fully open access journals without APCs, including the following intriguing suggestion:

Journal flipping can be funded through a broad cooperative consortium agreement among libraries. Commonly, multiple journals are flipped and supported as part of a single consortium agreement because the larger scale is beneficial to membership and publication outlets. Optimally, the funds directed to covering journal publication activities would be taken from funds that libraries previously allocated to pay for journal subscriptions, thus avoiding a substantial extra cost. SCOAP3 and OLH are the most prominent successful initiatives so far. Current successes suggest that the model can be successful. To date, the consortium approach has focused on a specific discipline and has been primarily driven by nonprofit or noncommercial organizations. Different approaches might also work, but so far, these have been the defining characteristics of the initiatives that have been successful.

I don’t pretend that conversion to open access will be without its bumps, but it is the most ethical and inclusive path. I call on my fellow philosophers and other academics in the humanities—those of us with job security, that is—to advocate for full no-fee open access. If not us, then who? Let’s make sure that the open access movement goes in a direction that works for us.

* * * * *

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology Executive Editor Christopher Eliot for helpful suggestions and wording.


Art: David Moreno, “Invitacion”

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David Velleman
David Velleman
3 years ago

Thank you, Roberta, for this very helpful guide to the current state of play.
The model described in your closing quotation is one that Steve Darwall and I proposed back in 2000, in the mission statement of Philosophers’ Imprint (still available on the journal’s “About” page). If we could have figured out a way to make it a reality, the Imprint would never have been forced to ask authors to contribute to the costs of copyediting and typesetting.
One question to ask about the consortia mentioned in that quotation is whether the participating libraries have cancelled their subscriptions to the commercially published journals that the consortia are meant to replace. If not, then the model has not yet been fully realized, because institutions haven’t in fact re-allocated resources from subscriptions to open-access publishing: they are simply carrying open-access publishing as an additional cost.
Of course,. institutions can’t re-allocate resources from subscriptions to open-access publishing so long as scholars and scientists keep publishing in subscription-based venues. Libraries have to acquire what’s published. That’s why initiatives like Plan S are necessary (which is not to say that I endorse the formulation of Plan S).
Readers may recall the firestorm of criticism that greeted our decision to charge a submission fee. Yet even if institutions could invest in open-access publishing to a sufficient extent, doing away with author fees entirely may not be desirable, at least in the short term. The Internet has made the process of submitting a manuscript far too easy: all it takes is attaching a file to an email and hitting “Send”. I am convinced that this is one — though only one — of the reasons why philosophy journals are now drowning under a storm surge of submissions, with serious costs to the quality of the editorial process and the philosophical literature. A small submission fee encourages authors to exercise at least some restraint before making a submission.
Of course, the submissions crisis has an underlying, structural cause — namely, that journal submissions are a collective-action problem. The more each author submits, the better his or her chances of acceptance; the more everyone submits, the worse each author’s chances of acceptance. What’s needed is some way of establishing a truce.
A few journal editors are now discussing one possibility, in collaboration with the good folks at PhilPapers. I hope that we will have a guest post for Justin on this possibility in the near future.Report

Mrmister
Mrmister
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

I am not much troubled by the submission fee at Imprint, which does excellent editorial and reviewing work and does it quickly and transparently—the fee is nominal and it seems more than “worth it.”. But also because the fee is nominal and worth it, I doubt it is doing much to suppress submissions. Whatever factors go into deciding when and where to submit, it’s hard to see $20 playing that significant of a role. But maybe others feel differently?

Regardless, thanks for the laudable work to everyone involved at Imprint, which really is a wonderful institution.Report

Roberta Millstein
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

Thanks for your comment, David. Indeed, my hope is that with Plan S, regardless of imperfections, can be the spark for changes that many of us have long wanted to see, so that maybe those things we hoped for in the past can become a reality. And you’re right that this re-allocation of money requires a change not just in what the libraries are doing, but what each of us does as scholars — thus my plea at the end for all of us who have job security to support the push to open access. I agree that one way that people can do that is to shift their submissions to open access journals where possible.

As for discouraging the volume of submissions via small APCs or other means, I’m inclined to keep that as a separate issue. The job situation is so dire, with the pressure to publish so increased from what it was, that I cannot fault junior scholars from publishing at a high rate. It’s up to those of us who are in more privileged positions to make these changes, in my opinion. But I will keep an eye out for your post.

In the meantime, my main goal with this post is to get people thinking about what kind of open access we should have. I don’t think we should settle for author-formatted papers in repositories (“green access”), and now may be the time to make that clear.Report

David
Reply to  Roberta Millstein
3 years ago

Roberta — Sorry if I seemed to be diverting attention from the main issue. I agree that “green” access is not the way to go. I am also opposed to any solution that involves the participation of commercial publishers.Report

Roberta Millstein
Reply to  David
3 years ago

David, thanks, that’s good to hear! Happy to talk about this more at any point in the future.Report

Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

Not to derail the conversation before it really starts, but I think journals and their “products” (as well as scholarship and research in general) should be treated as public goods (in the economic sense; non-rivalrous and non-excludable) and therefore be taxpayer funded.

As should course materials for all public (and public-ish) education.

Of course “open access” or “cheap course materials” initiatives are responses to the implausibility that governments would fund scholarship and fund access to it in that way. Nevertheless, that is how I think it *should* be funded. It would equalize access as well as support scholars, rather than free-marketizing scholarship and treating scholars as volunteers.Report

Filcoren
Filcoren
3 years ago

Why is changing the entire system of academic publishing the solution to a problem with a small number of greedy publishers? Why not aim the solution at the problem?Report

Roberta Millstein
Reply to  Filcoren
3 years ago

Filcoren, what did you have in mind?Report

David Ross
3 years ago

Speaking as the editor-in-chief of a “diamond” open access journal (the Journal of Logic and Analysis), I think it needs to be emphasized that Millstein’s concerns apply to the combination of open repositories+separate paywalled journal, not to journals like mine which provide an open repository for the version of record.

I’m not sure that the specific concerns she raises over posting to repositories are really serious, but I am glad she is raising them, because the European directive has the potential to be genuinely disruptive to the current publication situation and I would hate to see that defanged by allowing publishers easy outs.

There are some genuine challenges to running a journal like ours, but they generally translate to time load on the people running it. I don’t think that submission fees would make a noticeable difference in that, our weak (rejected) and strong papers all generally come from the same kinds of institutions, with the same ability to pay such fees.Report

Roberta Millstein
Reply to  David Ross
3 years ago

David, I too am involved with a “diamond” open access journal (though I hate the terms gold, green, diamond, and try to avoid them) as a co-editor of Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology. So I thank you for your clarification about a possible misunderstanding — right, I am not raising concerns about journals like ours, but rather hoping to foster more journals like ours. It is indeed the possibility of letting paywalled journals off the hook by saying “oh, we allow author versions in repositories” that I see as the problem. The Suber article I linked to above, which makes the case for “green” access, got a lot of attention, so I do see this as a serious issue. Plus I think people will just take the easiest path if they can. We have to join forces to fight for a better solution even if it takes more work to get there.Report

David Ross
Reply to  Roberta Millstein
3 years ago

Right, I don’t like the terms either, but it is easier than saying it is a no-access-fee no-page-charges journal. In science when you say “open access” PLoS One comes to almost everyone’s mind, and their $1500 APCs are high enough that they gross $20-30 million every year.
Suber at least points out that most OA journals nowadays are *not* pay to play.

By the way, The Scholarly Kitchen (which is generally anti-OA) has an article up on submission fees: https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/09/20/plan-t-scrap-apcs-and-fund-open-access-with-submission-fees/

TSK is usually a good barometer of what academic presses are thinking about.Report

Roberta Millstein
Reply to  David Ross
3 years ago

On the other hand, even though saying “completely free for authors and readers” is a bit more of a mouthful, I am starting to realize that many of our colleagues don’t know much about open access, and so it might be clearer for them than the opaque “diamond access.”

Interesting about the push for submission fees over APCs. I just don’t see how we philosophy/humanities types could afford those, though, unless they were minimal (and even then they might be a hardship for grad students, etc.)Report

David Ross
Reply to  Roberta Millstein
3 years ago

I think submission fees are a really bad idea for a whole slew of reasons, but I also think that if such fees become common then any department not willing to pay these fees for its graduate students should not be running a graduate program.Report

Roberta Millstein
Reply to  David Ross
3 years ago

Agreed on both counts, although I can also imagine some departments wanting advisors to sign off on the submissions first.Report