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Open Peer Review for the Humanities

Kim Stevenson, “Open Journal Publishing: Letting Elpis out of Pandora’s Box”

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Open Journal Publishing: Letting Elpis out of Pandora’s Box
Kim Stevenson, University of Plymouth

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Introduction

Permalink for this paragraph 0 In the digital age of instant web-access and insatiable demand for immediate information delivery the population of freely accessible, open, web-based journals is expanding exponentially offering significant challenges to established paper based, peer reviewed, subscription journals. This has significant implications for the academy, both institutionally and personally. The ability to publish, disseminate and access academic research in a matter of weeks (or less) from submission to review rather than months or even years makes subject matter, analysis and argument more timely, topical and relevant.  New and innovative channels and interfaces are constantly opening up facilitating exciting developments and creativity in the presentation, analysis and evaluation of academic commentary and research led discourse. Simultaneously, the expanding digitalisation and online publication of historical texts and imagery can effortlessly and richly colour the traditional ‘black and white letter’ journal article beyond the odd visual illustration. But, as with Pandora’s Box, what kinds of spirits has Open Access Publishing (OA) released into the academic world? OA has certainly precipitated and activated Elpis’ spirit of hope.[1] Potentially any author can now find an online outlet willing to publish their work, however specialist, ground-breaking, or self-indulgent, and critically with the potential to ‘elude’ robust peer review and editorial control. It has, therefore, also unwittingly or deliberately,  released the dark spirits of a number of ‘dementors’: increasing academic evils filtered through the intensification of research league tables, ranking of outputs, impact analytics, research funding allocation reviews, monitoring of individuals and departments, and dominant monopolization and protectionism of recognised and leading ‘elitist’ journals etc..

Permalink for this paragraph 0 This paper draws on my experience of establishing two quite different OA Journals hosted and supported by Plymouth University.  As an academic lawyer specialising in a historico-legal approach to the criminal law, crime news and the criminal justice process I work in close partnership with social historians, Dr Judith Rowbotham and Professor David Nash. In 1999 we created an interdisciplinary, inter-collaborative and international research project – SOLON: Interdisciplinary Studies in Crime and Bad Behaviour. Having no real idea of the political concept of OA publishing at the time but recognising there was a real vacuum and need for a forum where genuinely interdisciplinary research examining the criminal law and process in its historical context could be profiled and disseminated, we created an associated free, externally peer-reviewed international on-line journal – originally entitled Crimes and Misdemeanours: Deviance and the Law in Historical Perspective it was recently retitled Law Crime and History to accommodate wider interests in historico-legal research. Secondly, in order to encourage colleagues, especially those new to research, and to profile the best of our students’ work as many US Law Schools do with their annual essay competitions, I also created the Plymouth Law Review (recently extended to the Plymouth Law Review and Criminal Justice Review in light of departmental restructuring) to showcase the work of our School and Research Centre headlined each year by incorporating the Annual Pilgrim Father’s Lecture delivered by a senior member of the UK judiciary.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The aim of this paper is to highlight some of the challenges and opportunities that as OA publishers we have encountered and consider where such forums are now positioned in a domestic, global and disciplinary context.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The Spirit of OA

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Open Access Publishing (OA) facilitates the digital online capacity of freely available scholarly literature and research for a targeted or global readership. Despite current interest it is nothing new originating in 1966,[2] what is different is the profuse intensification, expansion and availability of OA sources. The landscape of academic publishing is experiencing the kind of seismic shift not seen since the phenomenal explosion of the print press in the mid-nineteenth century, suggesting that interesting parallels can perhaps be drawn with the ways in which technologies and publishing aspirations facilitated the escalation, establishment and readership accessibility of Victorian periodicals.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The Budapest Open Access Initiative 2002 supported by George Soros, the international philanthropist, acknowledges the diversity of the term but that in principle so-called Green OA Publishing refers to freely available  full text articles published on the public internet (as opposed to Gold OA which involves payment)

Permalink for this paragraph 0 “permitting users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link…, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Thus there is a clear distinction that needs to be understood between Open Access and Open Content as the latter may include the right of others to modify an author’s original work such as Wikis.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Green OA or ‘Self-archiving’ is therefore  non-profit driven publication where peer reviewed and non-peer reviewed  work is deposited online either through the author’s own institution or an OA archive journal such as Law Crime and History and the Plymouth Law Review, the overall aim being to maximize its accessibility, usage and citation.  In 2010, OpenJournal Publishing suggested that there were over 6,600 OA titles[3] which now appears to be something of an understatement.  Harnad estimates that globally there are currently approximately 25,000 peer-reviewed journals across all disciplines, 90% of which are freely available.[4] New titles are launched daily particularly from the increasingly competitive Asian universities and institutions. Relevant examples include History Workshop Online as a spin off from the History Workshop Journal and the History Working Papers Project pioneered by NACBS in association with the London based Institute of Historical Research providing the opportunity to publish these conference papers.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 While there are some costs to the institution/journal organization to cover staff time to physically format and load text, design and manage the respective host website etc., these are minimal and generally acknowledged to be ‘cost-free’. Our SOLON journal was originally hosted by Nottingham Law School at Nottingham Trent University and later transferred to its current url at Plymouth. In both cases the departmental IT support staff volunteered to design and create the website and imagery embedding the Journal within it. Issues can be simply uploaded once we send the formatted and edited text so ongoing financial costs are marginal compared to the potential global presence and publicity the journal, University and school receive. The project also provided a creative and developmental role for IT staff requiring enhancement of their knowledge and skills base. Both Universities were willing for the website to promote and present its own identity without the restrictions imposed by standard University corporate templates facilitating academic creativity and freedom. This allowed the project and Journal to develop its own distinctive identity and ‘brand’; something that was crucial for SOLON as an inter-institutional and inter-disciplinary venture.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 In contrast Gold OA Publishing is a more commercialized venture, the author’s work is published in an OA journal but this is usually hosted by either a commercial, public or government sponsored publisher. Typically the author, author’s institution or research funder will pay a fee or subscription, for international Gold OA journals this can be £1,000 or more per article. A third version is Hybrid OA where some articles may be freely available, in whole or part, subject to a publication payment, or ‘processing fee’ to access and download that particular text.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sage is a good example as evidenced on its website:

Permalink for this paragraph 0SAGE Open seeks to be the world’s premier open access outlet for academic research. This approach allows readers greater access and gives them the power to determine the significance of each article through SAGE Open‘s interactive comments feature and article-level usage metrics.’

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Manuscripts up to 10,000 words can be submitted ‘free’ and subjected to ‘rigorous review’; but the catch is that ‘Only if your manuscript is accepted will you pay the author acceptance fee of $395 (discounted from the regular price of $695).’[5] Despite the assurances of rigorous review it is hard to dismiss thoughts of ‘vanity publishing’ and ‘commercial necessity.’  Some 50 Universities have already signed up to Sage Open offering an Author Fund to reimburse their scholars for such costs.  Most of these are highly prestigious, internationally ranked, research intensive institutions, primarily from North America eg Harvard, MIT, Cornell, UCal, Columbia, Duke, Wisconsin, Calgary, Ottawa; 4 from the UK -Nottingham, Exeter, Brunel, Bournemouth; Europe eg Erlangen, Helsinki, Lund, Barcelona, and from the antipodes – Queensland. Oxford Journals Open also claim ‘to facilitate the widest possible dissemination of high-quality research. We embrace both green and gold open access publishing to support this mission.’  A caveat is made in respect of Green OA however: ‘OUP facilitates green OA either by allowing authors to deposit versions of their manuscripts in institutional or subject repositories after a specified time period,[italics added] or depositing the version of record on their behalf’ – the Academic Processing Charge is £1,700 or $3,000. 93% of UK universities now have an OA archive repository where copies of such pre-print staff publications and PhD theses can be stored. Harnard identifies 26 Universities that now operate a mandate policy where staff must upload their work to increase institutional and individual impact factors.[6] ROARMAP the Registry of Open Access Repositories Mandatory Archiving Policies based at Southampton University maintains an international catalogue of such mandates.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Opening Pandora’s Box

Permalink for this paragraph 0 This controversial practice of academics being required to pay an Academic Processing Charge to enable their work to be published in the pre-eminent journals of their discipline is gaining purchase. Universities that cover an individual’s costs for APC invariably pay twice as they may still have to cover the annual subscription costs to that journal as well.  SAGE publishes details of the Fund protocols of each institution listed. For example, Ottawa, which confirms that APC fees can range from Can$1,000-5,000, provides an ‘Author Fund to encourage scholars to make their research available in open access.’ Grand Valley State University Libraries offer to cover up to £3,000 per article and in 2009-10 Nottingham University supported 140 applications at a cost of £171,179. However, not all institutions listed are as ‘open’ about the amounts they either have, or are prepared to reimburse.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The Universities and Research Councils UK which allocate public research monies are acknowledged as leading the rest of the world in encouraging the expansion and movement towards OA (for which read Gold) by stipulating it as a condition for funding awards and sponsored research projects, but the EU and the US are quickly catching up.[7] £10million has been ring-fenced by the Higher Education Funding Council to encourage and assist the top 30 ‘research intensive’ Universities to manage the transition from traditional paper based to OA formats. In June this year the Government commissioned Finch Report, Accessibility, Sustainability, Excellence: How to Expand Access to Research Publications [8] published the findings of an independent Working Group including representatives from academia, research funders, learned societies, publishers and libraries. Positively it recommended a ‘clear policy direction’ in support of OA; but disappointingly, and presumably to appease commercial publishing interests, it favoured Gold OA in line with the Research Councils UK’s (RCUK) new OA policy. Finch suggests the transition to Gold could cost £50-60million to cover the drop in finance to commercial publishers as Universities withdraw their annual journal subscription charges. This seems somewhat irrational and contradictory given the inexorability of relatively cost-free Green OA.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 In a further display of discord, Mark Thorley, Chair of the RCUK Research Outputs Network recently backtracked and said the Council was not ‘anti-green’ and was ‘staggered’ by the ‘apparent misunderstanding’ of its OA policy confirming that the benefits of Gold OA outweighed the costs as it ‘offered the highest possible quality accessibility and exploitability, and gives sustainability to the publishing system’.[9] However, an even more influential juggernaut driving the Gold model is the European Union’s 80billion euro flagship initiative Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation which will stipulate the Gold journals that EU funded research must be disseminated in.  Editors are currently being offered the chance to test whether their journals will be OPENaire[10] compliant to link publications to data and funding streams.  Researchers may therefore face difficult choices in the future about where their work might be best placed, potentially drawing conflicts between individual academic freedom, institutional objectives and funding support.

Permalink for this paragraph 0

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Thus ‘open access’ is not necessarily as ‘open’ as might first appear especially as certain Gold publications may require subscriptions or access fees to actually read or download the material published.  Green OA is more genuinely open to all, but is often, in my view, unfairly and simplistically labeled as a self-archiving medium rather than a publishing one. Initially Green articles could only be found through the journal’s website or Google limiting their potential audiences, but type SOLON in on Google now and it regular appears as the second highest hit after Wikipedia’s biography of the Athens’ magistrate. Increasingly online research is being reproduced and indexed by organisational  -as well as organisationally –digital archiving by the leading global educational publishers such as Gale/Cengage Learning. Gale hold over 11,000 journal titles, 150,000 Early English Books, C19 British newspapers including a complete run of The Times and other significant historical archives.  Gale, approached me as editor, at no cost or prejudice to author’s rights, to collaborate as a publishing partner by licensing the full-text content of Law Crime and History and the Plymouth Law Review, it aims to hold the ‘top 1,500 law journals in the world’ and currently archives 250 full text law journals.[11] It also holds 850 historical e- and print books. Similarly  Project Muse (founded in 1993) specializes in Humanities and Social Science electronic journals archiving 71 history journals including some highly prestigious UK ones, however, many of these are Hybrid OA with full access limited because of publisher embargoes eg Past and Present 2005-2007, Parliamentary History 2006-2007.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 In terms of representation across disciplines humanities is as equally represented as law in Gale’s journal databases, both stand at 11% each of the 15,000 titles held, Social Sciences has the most presence at 27%.[12] Narrowing this to the UK, a Web of Science survey in 2010 of 85,215 research papers (over half of which were published in medical related subjects), found that 35% were in Green and 5% in Gold journals. Science and Medical subjects featured strongly in Green Journals (48% Physics, 47% Earth and Space, 43% Biomedical) and typically 4% in Gold. Biosciences and biomedicine are at the forefront of OA: it can accommodate meta studies and grid computer data, limit the potential for rival ‘scoops’ and enable the dissemination of research data into the public domain as quickly as possible. Researchers can make a one-off payment of $259 to publish an unlimited number of papers in PeerJ a new California based science journal or $99 for a regular annual submission.  For humanities papers, which accounted for just 2,423 or less than 3% of the total research papers surveyed, 16% featured in Green journals and 1% (240 papers) in Gold.  Reasons behind such differentiation may include the fact that Humanities attracts less financial support than STEM subjects, tends to generate more monographs and less multi-authored pieces, utilizes more individual/specialist journals such as those published by historical/learned  societies, and fewer (cost effective) OA publisher packages are available to libraries. In common with science, institutional expectations that the Higher Education Funding Council will only fund work regarded as internationally excellent is a major factor, but whereas Science is taking the initiative to positively embrace and push OA humanities may need to consider its position in this respect.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Releasing the Spirits

Permalink for this paragraph 0 For historians there is no shortage of potential OA sources and publishing opportunities.  The extensive JURN Directory launched in 2003 by the University Library at Lund University lists some 7,500 Green OA titles including 4,000 Arts and Humanities. Over 600 of these are historical titles grouped generically eg Americas, British Isles, Medicine, Science and Technology,  Crime and Law, Sports, General, etc., including established journals, e-journals,  institutional archives, reviews eg H-Net Review,  local historical society publications, notes and chronicles. Critically, the Directory has become a victim of its own success and Lund is now requesting subscriptions from individuals and library associations to help it maintain this valuable resource.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Thus for historical research OA offers significant benefits not just in terms of the physical space available to accommodate more visual imagery, reproduction of archive material, metatext, multimedia etc.,  and more expansive and detailed explanation, though protocols need to be considered regarding the incorporation of oral histories, transcripts, notebooks, etc., but also ideologically.  SOLON has pioneered an interdisciplinary approach to history encouraging and developing contributions which challenge traditional boundaries, primarily incorporating legal and criminological integration but also publishing historical work with sociological, human rights and literature synergies. OA journals can provide that extra scope that can privilege understandings of other disciplinary perspectives expanding interest well beyond a traditionally historically focussed readership. Even more importantly OA can promote free local and community user engagement with academic research which is one of the priority drivers for the next round of UK funding allocations post-2014.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Green journal publishing therefore has inherent advantages. As authors retain copyright they can download and link their publications onto other databases, personal webpages, blogs and interest networks thereby increasing exposure. This is significant with increasing demands on academics and research leaders to provide analytics to prove and support the impact factors of their research. Readership statistics can be easily obtained from online sites such as academia.edu associated with Wikipedia providing a ‘powerful, efficient way to distribute’ research amongst its 1.2million registered users. The site is committed to OA and claims that it offers a ’huge deal,’  letting researchers ‘keep tabs on how many people are reading their articles with specialized analytics’ producing instant  and ‘quantifiable proof that their own research matters’.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Thus as far as Elpis is concerned, there are five positive aspects associated with OA identified by Playforth as Impact, Discoverability, Preservation, Reputation and Flexibility.[13] But the dark spirits are still circling. Professor Rick Rylance, Chief Executive of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council confirms that one of the most significant benefits of OA mechanisms for both the research community (and beyond)  is its potential ‘to mash, mine and mix information and knowledge’ thereby maximizing  the opportunities for further research and innovation.[14] In 2009 a joint JISC[15]/British Library report, Researchers of Tomorrow: The Research Behaviour of Generation Y students , survey of 17,000 doctoral students across 70 UK Universities born between 1982 and 1994, found that they were increasingly reliant on secondary sources i.e. journal articles and books, moving away from primary archival material and large datasets. Interestingly, the one major constraint restricting their research progress concerned access issues related to authentication and licence limitations to subscription-based journals.  The study also found that a ‘gradual increase was discernible’ in the willingness of Generation Y students to publish in OA fora but that there was, understandably,  significant confusion and misconception about the perceived lack of impact factor, credibility  and distinctions  between peer and non-peer reviewed journals. OA should not be tactically dismissed as it can offer a much less bruising experience to young and new researchers to help them build their research confidence and profile.  The chances of outright rejection are much lower as journals, like ours, are keen to encourage such submissions and genuinely offer constructive advice to secure publication rather than harshly critical rebuffs.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Nor is it just postgraduates who are confused about the OA environment and journal status. In the last 12 months I have received repeated ‘invitations’ to submit articles to the Beijing Law Review: launched December 2010 to date it has recruited 90 submissions, published 27 papers and recorded an impressive 16,175 downloads of those published papers. I have also been invited to contribute to the 2012 launch of the(?) Journal of Criminology published by Hindawi Publishing based in Cairo.  Many academics will be familiar with the rapidly growing problem of ‘predatory’ OA publishers sending spam emails, particularly with a number of journals emanating from Nigeria and Pakistan, this has prompted Jeffrey Beall, an Academic Librarian at the University of Colorado to maintain a warning list for academics.[16]

Permalink for this paragraph 0 However, without any global control or restrictions on title and domain names it is likely to become increasingly difficult to distinguish the established and reputable. Similarly without any universally agreed standards on external review, open review, process, presentation etc., it is not surprising that Gold OA might be perceived as the preferred means of maintaining the status of prestigious journals and ensuring the best value return for public research funding.[17]

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Conclusion

Permalink for this paragraph 0 In the twenty-first century the ease of digital manipulation means that information no longer has any fixed form but any historian would point out that information has always proved itself to be infinitely malleable and capable of being adapted or distorted. And always, therefore, difficult to limit and control as the apparently unstoppable popularity of OA demonstrates. Arguably an unforeseen consequence of new technology is that the contextual clues which allow users to evaluate the reliability of information are being eroded; particularly the tacitly-understood connection between information and source is in danger of being lost.[18] There is no question that OA Publishing is radically changing the research strategies of the academy. For those of us seeking tenure and professorial titles OA invitations may appear flattering and sound like an Elpis-like academic heaven,  however, researchers should be conscious and wary of the ‘dementors’ that need to be carefully circumvented or neutered so that their work is not ‘devalued’.  Nor is it yet clear how the dynamics between academic freedom and the competing interests of universities, libraries, publishers, funding bodies, user communities and internet capabilities can be reconciled, or what the implications of the Pandora like release of unintended consequences may be. But ultimately the opportunities now available to all to disseminate their research and create bespoke and specialist vehicles to promote projects and ideas has the potential to smash the perceived (?) anachronistic ‘ivory tower’ mentality, forcing the academy to engage in a more informed, accessible and exciting dialogue that instead of exclusively communicating with themselves facilitates the inclusivity of speaking directly to broader non-academic audiences.


[1] Elpis was the spirit of hope left in the box after Pandora released all the world’s evils more typically interpreted in Greek literature as ‘expectation’ – or an expected hope good. See Leinieks, V. “Elpis in Hesiod, Works and Days 96,” Philologus 128. 1984. 1-8. A minority and more negative view is that it means an ‘expected evil’ see Verdenius, W. A Commentary on Hesiod “Works and Days” vv 1-382. Leiden, 1985.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [2] See Peter Suber, OA Movement Timeline http://oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/Timeline

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [3] See Pierre J T de Villiers, Managing Director, OpenJournal Publishing, AOSIS African Online Scientific Information Systems.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [4] Harnad, Why the UK should not heed the Finch Report (2012) http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/341128/1/LSEFinch.pdf.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [5] Offer available when website accessed 4 October 2012

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [6] Harnad, Why the UK should not heed the Finch Report (2012)

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [7] See Harnad, Why the UK should not heed the Finch Report (2012) Harnad acknowledges that the US has more institutional mandates (39 compared to the UK’s 26, 4 funder mandates – UK 14) but that ‘the UK is far ahead of the US relative to its size.’

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [8] Finch Report (June 2012). The Report was convened by the Universities and Science Minister David Willetts.

[9] Paul Jump, ‘Gold is good, but it’s not the only colour, RCUK says’, (2012) THES

Permalink for this paragraph 0 http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=421352

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [10] Open Access Infrastructure for Europe

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [11] ‘Most public and academic libraries in the US own or subscribe to at least one Gale product, more than 200,000 researchers access our online academic databases. We think your publications are pertinent to meeting the needs of the research community.’ E-mail from Digital Licensing Manager 28/8/2012.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [12] See Gale marketing materials (2010) at http://www.library.iitkgp.ernet.in/sites/workshop/pdf/Product%20presentation%20for%20INDEST-KGP%20-%20Santosh%20Jha.pdf

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [13] Rachel Playforth, ‘As good as gold? How and why to publish open access research ‘ 12 sept 2012 http://www.impactandlearning.org/2012/09/as-good-as-gold-how-and-why-to-publish.html and Swan, Alma (2010) The Open Access citation advantage: Studies and results to date http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/268516/

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [14] ‘Research matters: Students will reap the benefits of new thinking on access to valuable research material’, The Independent 26 September 2012.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [15] Joint Information Systems Committee- the UK’s leader in driving information and digital technologies for education and research http://www.jisc.ac.uk/

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [16] Jeffrey Beall (2012) Beall’s List of Predatory Open Access Journals. Hindawi Publishing is being closely monitored but has not yet been classified as a ‘predator’. http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~jbeall/Beall’s%20List%20of%20Predatory,%20Open-Access%20Publishers%202012.pdf

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [17] For example, I was sent a request, as a crime historian albeit working on crime news to peer review Newspaper Reportage and its Effect Towards Enhancing Agricultural and Environmental Sustainability In Nigeria for the Journal of Media and Communications Studies – clearly the editor had not properly researched by suitability for this or identified a leading writer in the field.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [18] See Harris, Rowbotham and Stevenson et al, ‘Truth, Law and Hate in the Virtual Marketplace of Ideas: Perspectives on the Regulation of Internet Content’,  Information and Communications Technology Law (2009) 18 155-84 p.174

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