Thursday, August 29, 2013

Political Science & Open Access

At The Monkey Cage, Erik Voeten announced a new open access journal, Research and Politics, that sounds very interesting. There is, however, a catch. Eventually authors will have to pay to play.

An open access model always creates the fear of high author fees especially if you are working with a commercial publisher.  Let me say that Sage has been a terrific partner so far. There are substantial benefits to working with a team of professionals who understand the publication process. We are keeping costs low by only publishing on-line and relying on the free labor of a large team of academics (including ourselves). Thanks to substantial upfront investments by Sage and some support from Georgetown and Leiden Universities, there will be no fees in the first two years.  Eventually, the journal will need some income. In much of Europe, there is a strong trend towards governments requiring that research produced with public funds is published open access. Those research grants usually budget publication fees. This is much less common in the U.S., where public funding for political science research is, let’s say, “iffy.” Some universities have created funds for open access funding but it is not yet clear whether this trend will broaden.

My immediate concern is that this will quickly lead to stratification once the payment requirement kicks in, as authors at many universities do not enjoy a large pool of research funds to pay for this sort of thing. Indeed, he mentions "some universities" are creating funds for open access, but only mentions Cornell, which is hardly representative. Sage may be a great partner, but it needs to make money, especially when it coughed up a "substantial" investment to get the journal launched.

This is, of course, a major challenge for open access publication. Someone has to underwrite it. I published last year in Journal of Politics in Latin America, which is a really cool open access journal paid for by a German research institute. It has been attracting a lot of well-known scholars though I wonder how long that would last if authors had to pay an upfront fee even to submit, unless that fee was quite small.

The general idea of a different type of journal with specific aims that fall outside existing political science journals and is open access to boot is great. We need to think in new ways about publication. This reminds me a bit of an article in the Chronicle about mini-monographs, which are shorter than typical books but longer than articles, and are published as e-books. They are still peer-reviewed but are published much more quickly.


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