Saturday, July 14, 2007

Open Access Journals and Archaeology

There are a few OA (Open Access) journals in archaeology, and these are listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals: Two good ones that I have used are the Journal of Caribbean Archaeology:, and the Bryn Mawr Classical Review: But the number is small, and the major journals in the field are quite restrictive in their access policies. I can download articles from back issues of many of these because my university has subscriptions, but without such an affiliation this can be difficult to impossible. Furthermore the time lag between publication and online posting affects many journals.

Journals published by commercial publishers are a real problem. Subscription costs are skyrocketing; to take just one example, the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory just doubled in price, so I dropped my subscription. Libraries are in crisis mode over commercial journal costs. Given the economics of these journals, coupled with their efforts to restrict access to published articles (C.T. Bergstrom and Bergstrom 2006; T.C. Bergstrom 2001; Fisher 2007), I have almost decided to stop publishing in commercial journals.

Journals published by university presses are better than commercial journals in both their economics and their access policies; in these areas they are similar to journals published by many professional societies. I was initially surprised that the main societies that I belong to, the SAA (Society for American Archaeology) and the AAA (American Anthropological Association), generally oppose OA policies for their journals. For the AAA case, see discussion and links in the Open Access Anthropology Blog: But upon reflection, this is not puzzling. These are professional societies, not scientific or intellectual societies, and their leadership does not want to sacrifice subscription revenues in the cause of broadening access to published research.

The fact that finances trump science in the SAA is clear from the Annual Meetings. For many years I have criticized the SAA (with letters to the editor in the newsletter every few years) for not being selective in accepting papers for the Annual Meeting. As a result, there are too many papers, too many simultaneous sessions, and too many boring and worthless presentations. But the SAA is unwilling to give up the registration fees of those boring presenters (who presumably won’t come if they can’t give a paper) in order to raise the intellectual level of the meeting. I was flabbergasted by a published statement by a recent SAA president that the reason the SAA didn’t review and select contributions was that archaeologists weren’t comfortable having others pass judgment on their work. Peer review, however, is a basic component of publishing, grants, and hiring in academic disciplines—including archaeology—but it is unfortunately NOT a part of the SAA annual meeting.

Archaeology, like other disciplines, clearly needs more OA journals. The basic problem is the finances. If no one pays for subscriptions, then how does one cover the costs of production? The main model right now—most prominently in the hard sciences—is for authors to pay. This may work for biochemists, who have large grants that can fund publication costs. But just trying putting such costs into your next NSF proposal and see what the reviewers say about it! This is unworkable in less lucrative fields like archaeology.

There are some reasonable funding suggestions in the OA literature, but they seem unlikely. For example, university libraries could foot the bill, using money they save when they drop expensive journal subscriptions for OA journals (I can’t see this actually happening, given the ways universities operate). Or universities could pay as part of their efforts to promote faculty activity and scholarship in general. But at my university (and many others), new academic projects and centers must be “revenue-neutral” (i.e., go find your own funding, don’t bother the Dean).

There are institutions that help in the production and operation of OA journals for relatively small fees (for example, the Scholarly Exchange:, and many university libraries now help faculty who want to start OA journals by providing expertise and resources. But unless one is willing to sacrifice basic quality features of journals (such as copy-editing and professional-looking page layout), financing OA journals remains an obstacle. I have been investigating the possibility of starting an OA journal (on early states), but finances seem to be the main hurdle to work out.

Bergstrom, Carl T., and Theodore C. Bergstrom
2006 The Economics of Ecology Journals. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 4:488-495.

Bergstrom, Theodore C.
2001 Free Labor for Costly Journals?

Fisher, Julian H.
2007 Fixing the Broken Toaster: Scholarly Publishing Re-imagined. Science and Technology Libraries.


Pretzel Bender said...

I think this is why I like FAMSI's policy of insisting on a web published report of findings for grantees. In some cases, I've found it's the only published source on a project. No, it's not the same as peer-reviewed articles, but it's something!

It seems to me that too many granting agencies don't include funds for the storing, archiving, or accessing of archaeological data much less funds to allow public access to the publications stemming from the research paid for out of public funds. It would certainly be nice to see this change...

Mike Smith said...

I agree completely!