Open Access: [Insert Clickbait Headline Here]



It’s hard (and feels wrong) to criticize the open access movement. The push for findings and reports stemming from federally funded research to be available to all seems like a no-brainer. In this case, the issue is less about access in the digital age and more about the Freedom of Information Act and the public’s right to benefit from the use of public funds.

Some of the other issues surrounding open access, however, are less clear. In her 2017 article for EdSurge, Jessica Leigh Brown sums up one of the central concerns with open access publishing in her title “Will ‘Publish or Perish’ Become ‘Clicks or Canned’?” In her article she addresses the recent increase in academic social networks — networks where scholars can upload their own work and read/cite the work of others.

In an ideal world, an open and free interchange of ideas would be amazing. Within the confines of cognitive and digital capitalism, it is concerning. The traditional journal publication goes through a series of revisions and peer reviews. Although daunting and stressful, this process improves the work. Especially for us humanities-types, it helps us hone our argument and clarify confusing passages.

Brown’s title suggests that traditional publishing prior to tenure could be replaced with quantifying your paper’s “reach” or number of citations (or number of “likes”?). According to Brown, uploading research to results in a 69 percent increase in citations over five years. I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of introducing market demand to academia. Doesn’t this push scholars into feeling like they have to center their research around the newest, hottest theories? Working less within their own interests and insights and more in the realm of what they think will be popular? I don’t know any academic who wants to cater to the whims of social interest.

More than this, what if our position as scholars (and perhaps our tenure) relied more on how often our article were read, clicked on, or cited? Obviously open internet access (without going through a library system) will increase citation. But using these as measures for tenure will lead to the same issues currently facing journalism today — clickbait headlines, sensation over importance, and lots of quickly produced product over fewer quality articles.

Let me be clear. I’m a fan of open access. But we simply can’t allow open access to become a playground for capitalism, where the pressures to self-publish online increases exponentially because the value of the product had decreased. In an online realm without editors and peers to review papers before they go online, how can students or other scholars trust the authors’ interpretations of texts or citations? What kind of quality assurance is there?

I’d prefer there to be a system that forces critical engagement through the writing process prior to papers made available for free online. There exists thousands of books self-published on amazon that might have been interested and good had they gone through a traditional editorial process. To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter how much access you have to research if it isn’t good research.

In addition to quality control, what remains to be seen is how academic social networks will impact the way we, as scholars compete, for jobs and verify our worth.


Filed under Preparing the Future Professoriate

8 Responses to Open Access: [Insert Clickbait Headline Here]

  1. glupton

    Great post. You really bring up a lot of thoughtful questions. I wonder how you feel about a site like ResearchGate. I am on that site but haven’t put any research on there at this point. To me, it seems like a kind of “sandbox” where you can “work out the kinks” of your work before publishing somewhere else. It is free and gives some exposure to your work to others in your field but does have a bit of a social network feel.

    I am a fan of the open access model, but the potential dangers you mentioned are disconcerting. Do you view those things as present issues or potential issues of open access? I really dislike the “like” and “re-post” aspect of social media and think that model would be a major negative direction for research dissemination to go. Fingers crossed I suppose.

  2. alliem

    You raise a lot of valid concerns here that made me stop and think about open access. Though I remain a fan, I think that all of your points/questions are totally valid. For some reason, probably because I’m in the social sciences, the click bait headline point gets me. I remember experiencing this for my own publication. I had a really catchy title in mind, but in the end I opted not to use it because it had only minor relations to my research. Using the title could have been misleading. I have read my fair share of articles where I read the title and get into the work and wonder where the title came from.

    I think one way to ensure quality control within the rise of open access is to still ensure we are demanding a double blind peer review system. I would be very hesitant to trust an open access journal that did not integrate this method of publishing into their core belief system.

  3. Ishi Keenum

    I echo that of my peers and my own concern that open access cannot mean lower quality. We have all seen how social media and clicks have transformed our internet article experience and, just like its critical when we read the news, we need to be able to know which journals or sites are still maintaining these standards even if we can read them without paying. I do wonder though why free or open necessarily makes us worry about lower quality and I hope this doesn’t become a part of tenure.

  4. Wonderful post. I love your critical lens. I also worry about quality control when things get too easy to post and share on line. Look at the recent outburst of fake news and the role that facebook and other social media giants have played in spreading false information. The other thing at risk is quality of life for academics. If the whole game turns into a popularity contest, everyone starts to value their work on the whims of internet trolls (whether academic or not) . The portrayal of false images is rampant in social media, imagine a world where research must be equally manicured before it can be shared, and the self worth of the people writing the papers gets entangled in the whole mess!

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  6. “Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.” …

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