24 August, 2016

Making Sense of Open Access Journals - a Beginning

Every now and again, I encounter discussions with scholars about open access journals.  Publishing in open access journals seems a rather appealing option, in the face of current trends in scientifically publishing, where science is effectively locked up in the giant publishing houses with limited public reach. Open access seems like a possible means to get peer-reviewed papers published and made available to a wider readership. The issue, however, isn't quite so simple. This entry attempts to start a road map through this growing and actually rather messy field. This entry is only a beginning, a scratch at the surface, and thoroughly incomplete.  It is  just a start towards finding high-quality outlets to publish in, and identifying about some implications to consider.

Look our for this good stuff!
First off, a really nice list is curated, too, by Simon Batterbury on the topic of geography, political ecology, and social science. This is a good starting point. The following links below are a sampling of journals that have run across my desk in the past. If you have any that you would like to add, please just let me know! I can easily update this list. These are all journals that practice double-blind peer-reviewing before bringing articles to publication. In no particular order:

  • ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies  The ACME Collective focuses on  critical geographical scholarship "about space and place in the social sciences — including anarchist, anti-racist, autonomist, decolonial, environmentalist, feminist, Marxist, non-representational, postcolonial, poststructuralist, queer, situationist, and socialist perspectives" Out of political conviction, they refuse all requests to be included on impact factor indexing or ranking platforms, despite a yearly readership of over 600,000.
  • Articulo - Journal of Urban Research - an independent, and voluntarily run journal based in Europe and addressing urban and regional issues. Articles are published in French or English.

Hybrid Open Access
This is a rather loose term that has emerged that could actually cover a whole variety of journals from small independent publishers, like Spaces and Flows to the big publishing houses like Taylor and Francis or Wiley that often offer a hand full of articles for free. Editorials to to special issues, for example, are often freely accessible while the articles are not.

Political economic dimensions
There is also a growing spectrum of new journals offering open access, but also charging authors to publish with them. Of course, someone has to pay for the publishing process, and the high cost of publishing has caused some old standing journals to fall into financial straits requiring financial contributions from authors, following a quasi co-operative financial structure. Die Erde comes to mind here.Still, I see several problems with this model:
  • The sums being charged are not small (I've seen upwards of 900€ per article - sorry, I can't remember where)
  • The publishers make no differentiation between students, precarious workers (usually early career post-docs and adjuncts), established researchers/professors, and institutions.  The financial ability differs according to one stage in career, and not all institutions are equal (compare salaries across the EU). A 900€ paper can be more than a professor's monthly salary.  Furthermore, those lower on the mobility latter have a higher publication pressure, as the publication record is the single most important feature of a given cv.  In this regard, it is necessary to recall that these journals are demanding this amount for a single article in a journal no one has ever heard of. So, these journals make no attempt to redistribute the costs. A solidarity system of publishing charges might be worth considering here. Given this unevenness, this system of publication ultimately fosters the scholarly voices of those not necessarily doing founded research but those who are simply well financed.  I find this dangerously close to buying a career.
  • Payment doesn't come along with any membership rights. That is, the journals often make no attempt to democratize the editorial or administrative system.
Questionable Stuff
And of course, there is Beall's List a website that collects questionable and possibly predatory open access publishers. If you get an email out of the blue from someone apparently praising your work, and stroking your ego by wanting to publish it: first, read it again and see if you can detect whether it is a form letter; second, you might want to cross-reference the journal against Beall's List before going ahead and clicking the enticing hyper-link.

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