Friday, March 6, 2009

Open Access Increases Global Participation in Science

Archaeologists should think about who might want to read our work. For those of us who do research in another country, just how accessible are our publications to colleagues, students, and the public in our host country? I'm sure that most archaeologists working in other countries make an effort to publish in local venues and in the local scholarly language. But what about the things we publish back home, in English? A pattern I have observed is that publications in Spanish in Latin American venues (by foreign scholars) tend to be more descriptive and fieldwork-oriented, while more synthetic and theoretical works get published in an English-language journal. There are many factors promoting this pattern, from university tenure and promotion policies to the difficulties of writing complex works in another language.

Given this publication pattern (whether or not one thinks it should change), what are the options for our foreign colleagues to get access to our English-language journal articles? Most journals are restricted in their online and print subscriptions, and most foreign archaeologists do not have access to institutional internet subscriptions. This situation has numerous negative consequences, all of which are bad for the development of archaeology as a discipline. The only solution I can think of is to promote open access, both "gold OA" (open access journals) and "green OA" (self-archiving by authors).

A new study (from which I took the title of this post) shows the benefits of open access publishing for the development of science in developing countries:

Evans, James A. and Jacob Reimer (2009) Open Access and Global Participation in Science. Science 323:1025.

The authors provide new data on the question of just how much the citation of journal papers increases then they are made openly available ("Open access"). I did not find that discussion particularly valuable, since the patterns vary greatly among disciplines and archaeology is not one of the disciplines they illustrate. Their global conclusion is that the impact is more modest than some have claimed, but clearly measurable (8%).

The finding that attracted my attention is this:

"our work provides clear support for its [Open Access] ability to widen the global circle of those who can participate in science and benefit from it" (Evans and Reimer 2009:1025).

While this may seem obvious, it is nice to have it confirmed with a rigorous study based on abundant empirical data. This finding illustrates the irony of the American Anthropological Association's anti-Open Access journal policies. Anthropology is one discipline where one would expect sensitivity to the needs of scholars in poorer nations, but the AAA journal policy does little to address the issue.

The difficulties of getting access to publications--in both English and other languages--by readers in other countries probably explains the greater frequency of downloads of my Spanish-language papers over English papers from my Selected Works site.

If you want to know more about Open Access, check out my posts under "Open Access" and "Self Archiving" in the menu to the right. It is not difficult to post your papers online, where they will be read and cited more often. This is called self archiving. I can think of few reasons why any archaeologist would NOT want do do this.

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