Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Alternative Scholarly Publication models

Stephen Downes posted link to this major study.

Houghton, J., Rasmunssen, B., Sheehan, P., Oppenheim, C., Morris, A., Creaser, C., et al. (2009). Economic implications of alternative scholarly publication models: Exploring the costs and benefits (p. 286). JISC Report, Victoria, AU and : Victoria University and Loughborough University. Retrieved January 27, 2009, from

I've been reading with interest. The three models they discuss are traditional print, proprietary electronic formats, and open access self archiving repositories.

The conclusions of the authors is that there would be significant efficiencies using the open access self-archiving repositories. On the order of 1/2 - 1/3 of the cost. These savings could be directed towards greater research and discovery as opposed to sustaining and enriching a publishing industry that is more interested in making a buck that advancing knowledge. They speculate that the savings would be immediate and would be more than adequate to cover transitions costs even if the publishing industry was resistant and there were costs to figure out a work around in the short and medium term. The publishing industry will no doubt engage in more rent seeking behavior to maintain hegemony over academic publishing. One of the appeals will more than likely be to a claim to greater quality of traditional peer-review process. This argument is not justified give the evidence that it is just as easy to fiddle the peer-review process.

What I am looking for in the report is evidence that the analysts considered the enormous potential of the semantic web in their calculation of the benefits of open access, self archiving publications. If open access self archiving academic publications can incorporate semantic features even greater efficiencies will be realized. One of the major costs of traditional academic publication is the cost of finding researching and accessing source materials. As one who has spent hours navigating the complexities of various proprietary online data bases, setting up specialized document readers and generally jumping through arbitrary hoops to get access to documents and journal article, open access is a relief. The time that a researcher spends on research is much more productively spent reading reflecting rather than cursing the locked paygate or arcane registration process.

Also very persuasive are the arguments of the author who suggest that establish and emerging scholars, especially those from poor countries and third world economies. If big pharma won't develop the drugs necessary to combat third world diseases because they don't have a big enough payday, the world should make it possible for other scientists and researchers to use resources to solve some of their own problems. Never know when some resistant strain of a third world disease finds its way into our cornflakes.

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