The Business of Publications

Lawrence Lessig, one of the pioneers in reengineering copyright, posted an interesting note about a bill making its way through Congress:

John Conyers and Open Access (Lessig Blog).

The bill (sponsored by Rep. John Conyers) would remove the current requirement that government-funded research be made public after a set amount of time; instead, publishers of publicly-funded research could require payment for access to the results. This has serious implications for academia. As Lessig notes, the cost of journal access has been on the rise for some time, forcing university libraries to cut access to certain journals (our department, as well as departments across UNL, had to cut subscriptions last year; if I remember right, Publius was one of the journals we lost).

Lessig has been pushing for a model of research access wherein citizens,  government agencies and universities do not have to pay for access to research they’ve already funded; he sees this bill as a move by publishers to quash such a movement, which would obviously cut into their profits.

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9 Responses to The Business of Publications

  1. The GSA is considering a bill at the moment which would recommend to the faculty that Open Access journal publications be given some sort of preference. Open Access journals are ones where there is no fee, and is sort of modeled on open source software. Example journals can be found at:

  2. Interesting. Does that mean that faculty would be asked to submit for publication to those journals advocating open access first, or is it more of a requirement? Do you know of any other schools initiating this kind of activity? I imagine that a lot of schools doing this would put more pressure on traditional journals to open up a bit more.

  3. I can’t imagine it being a requirement. Rather I would suspect that some preference might be given for pubs in open access journals when hiring / tenure / promotion decisions are made. This may be a pipe dream, though. Well established, elite journals are not open access at the moment and they are unlikely to become so anytime soon. Remember, that one of the extra benefits of joining APSA is subscription to the journals. Why would they remove a primary reason for joining the interest group? Why wouldn’t individuals free ride if they could? Who will pay for the lower, but still substantial production costs? Tell me, tell me, tell me!

  4. I imagine that this business model is going to be around for quite some time yet, though it will be interesting to see if alterations in other areas of publishing bring about changes in this aspect.

    Lest that last sentence remain as vague as it is, I did recently read a blog (I think it was a computer science blog, though I can’t remember why I was there) talking about the problem of outdated knowledge. Obviously computer science and other tech fields’ publications have shorter shelf lives than ours, but I think it was still interesting. Basically the author was saying how we need to take a more wiki-like approach to publishing, though with a higher threshold for entry (obviously) than is the case with Wikipedia. So I guess an author would submit a work, which would be peer reviewed by a community of scholars in the open.. if it passes it gets ‘published’ online, but can be updated like any other wiki out there (again, with much higher standards). So instead of the knowledge being outdated it is updated.

    Kind of a interesting idea, though it brings up big questions about idea ownership and citing, to say the least. If I cite the version of an article from yesterday and it’s updated today, what does that mean for my work? Also, ownership or connection to an area would be a totally different ballgame. I suppose experts would still be acknowledged, but it seems that an area would be owned more by a network of scholars (as opposed to a few key figures), at least more so than is the case today. Anyway, interesting times to live in.

  5. In my mind, peer-reviewed wikis are functionally the same as peer-reviewed journals. In addition, different wikis can present the case for different schools of thought in the same way that different journals provide different perspectives on a topic. Further, as you state, the problem with many current wikis is that the peer group of editors is not a group of experts as it is for many academic journals.

  6. Jake says:

    This idea of a peer-reviewed wiki is fascinating. Problems are legion, but it would be extraordinarily useful to have a constantly evolving body of knowledge that can’t be tampered with by nincompoops.

    I would think epistemological and ontological differences would make this very hard to work in the social sciences.

    Not to mention that the amount of time needed to operate it would make it hard for a serious academic to justify.

  7. Jake says:

    And grammar. One reason I shouldn’t be a Philosopher-Wikier.

  8. I imagine that if enough academics were involved with such a project it wouldn’t be too difficult to maintain such wikis. There would still have to be some sort of institutional structure for a blind review process (wouldn’t be difficult, perhaps just disassociate the authors’ names until the review process is over, like we have now) and you would need accreditation to allow edits. Perhaps such a way would be a good mechanism to ease graduate students into the process as well.. sort of like apprenticeships. They get to add to “published” works, but approval is required, with requirements easing as one enters life as a full academic.

    On that note, something like this could possibly augment the current model of publishing. I know BJ has mentioned the need for a journal for publication of works that don’t falsify the null. It would seem that something with a bit lower cost of entry, such as a wiki, would be an ideal venue for such a thing.

  9. Jake says:

    I wonder if we don’t have a model for this sort of thing in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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