Will the Future of Scholarly Communication Be Pluralistic and Democratic, or Monocultural and Authoritarian?

From The Scholarly Kitchen:

Over the past twenty years I’ve engaged in more discussions, and read more articles and reports, and listened to more presentations about the present and future of scholarly communication than I can possibly count. For me, each of these conversations, documents, and presentations serves as a single point in a large and growing mass of data. Looking at it in the aggregate, this data set reveals certain patterns. One of the patterns that has recently become clear to me is that the scholarly communication community — a huge, globally and ideologically diverse group of people and organizations — is struggling collectively to make a choice between two mutually incompatible options.

. . . .

The struggle that is playing out right now within the scholarly communication ecosystem is the struggle to choose between pluralism and monoculture.

In the pluralistic scenario, the scholarly communication ecosystem embraces some mixture of open access (OA) and toll access models. In the monocultural scenario, the scholarly communication ecosystem embraces only OA, and eliminates toll access altogether. (Theoretically, of course, it would be possible to have an all-toll-access scenario as well, but that hasn’t been a realistic possibility for years. OA is here to stay and there is no reason at all to believe that it will ever go away, or that it should.)

We have to choose between these scenarios because as a matter of simple logic, they can’t coexist; one of them will eventually win and one of them will lose.

. . . .

It’s important to note that most of the people and organizations promoting and advocating for either of these scenarios are fully in favor of open access. Although I’ve heard credible rumors of genuine opposition to OA within certain segments of the scholarly communication ecosystem, I have never personally encountered any organization that opposes it in principle, or more than a tiny handful of individuals who oppose it. Even those organizations most commonly held up as anti-OA boogiemen (*cough* Elsevier *cough*) tend strongly to have demonstrated their support for OA in the most concrete of ways: by, you know, enthusiastically adopting it — and, in some cases, by having done more to advance it than most other groups who are in favor of it.

. . . .

Open access vs. toll access is a false dichotomy; you can have (and indeed we do now have) a system that is characterized by both open access and toll access models. So that’s not the choice we’re currently struggling with. What we are struggling with is the choice between universal and mandatory OA and non-universal and optional OA. That’s not a false dichotomy, but a real and logically inescapable one: you can’t simultaneously have universal and non-universal OA; OA can’t simultaneously be mandatory and optional.

Link to the rest at The Scholarly Kitchen

PG will note that large academic publishers tend to be extremely profitable as well as intent on making certain that no academic author ever is paid for the articles he/she submits for publication.

These publishers have aggressively consolidated the ownership of most, if not all of the most prestigious publications in various academic fields and charge the same educational and scientific institutions that pay the academic authors’ salaries high subscription fees to access the research information that at least part of the authors’ salaries have paid for.

The general public does have a stake in the open-access vs. paid subscription debate because, directly – via public funds that help support state and local public universities and indirectly via generous tax breaks given to private non-profit corporations that operate most, if not all, private universities as well as those same public universities. To the extent that paid subscriptions to scholarly publications increase the costs of operating those educational and research institutions, taxpayers will provide at least some of the funds that are sent to for-profit academic publishers.

3 thoughts on “Will the Future of Scholarly Communication Be Pluralistic and Democratic, or Monocultural and Authoritarian?”

  1. PG is seriously understating the perfidy of academic presses; many of them (particularly including the most-prestigious science journals) are vanity presses. They don’t just try to keep from paying authors — they make authors pay “page charges” to be published.

    And the less said about outside referees, “honoraria,” and so on, the better.

  2. We have to choose between these scenarios because as a matter of simple logic, they can’t coexist; one of them will eventually win and one of them will lose.

    Eventually can be a very long time, so let’s think of the short and medium term.

    I think we heard something similar about Windows and Linux.

    In fiction, we see free, KU, independent, and published. Those are four different pricing models all running at the same time. Zillions of consumers and authors participate in each.

  3. I don’t get it.

    If “Open Access”-only is the “monoculture” (ignoring the fact that OA reduces barriers, cultural or otherwise, to contribution as well as access), who or what is the “authority” that can make Open Access authoritarian? It seems like the label “authoritarian” was simply thrown into the title to monger fear.

    The full original article seems to suggest that this will be the work of “governments” (in plural), but it’s not clear to me how (much less why) this could be carried out in any but the most totalitarian of regimes. Pass a law against people paying money to have their work published?
    Pass a law against people paying to read any work that is freely available in other venues? The original article even states: “Are either governments or funders pushing for mandatory universal open access? Some certainly are, but not many.”

    There’s a big difference between a government saying “if we paid for this research using public dollars, then the reports must be freely available to the public” versus saying “all academic writing must be freely available to all”. The latter, which, AFAIK, no one is advocating, would be authoritarian. The former is merely good stewardship.

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